Managing Urban Canada Geese

The annual life cycle for geese begins in late winter when adult pairs return to nesting areas in late February or March, as soon as waters open up. Egg laying and incubation generally extend through April, with the peak of hatching in late April or early May, depending on location in the state. Geese will aggressively defend their nests, and may attack if approached. Non-breeding geese often remain nearby in feeding flocks during the nesting season. After hatching, goose families may move considerable distances from nesting areas to brood-rearing areas, appearing suddenly "out of nowhere" at ponds bordered by lawns.

After nesting, geese undergo an annual molt, a 4-5 week flightless period when they shed and re-grow their outer wing feathers. Molting occurs between mid-June and late July, and the birds resume flight in August. During the molt, geese congregate at ponds or lakes that provide a safe place to rest, feed and escape danger. Severe problems often occur at this time of year because the geese concentrate on lawns next to water. Some geese without young travel hundreds of miles to favored molting areas. These local migrations account for the disappearance or arrival of some local goose flocks in early June.

After the molt and through the fall, geese gradually increase the distance of their feeding flights and are more likely to be found away from water. Large resident flocks, sometimes joined by migrant geese in October, may feed on athletic fields and other large lawns during the day, and return to larger lakes and ponds to roost at night. This continues until ice or snow eliminates feeding areas and forces birds to other open water areas nearby or to the south, where they remain until milder weather returns and nesting areas open up.

"Resident" geese, as their name implies, spend most of their lives in one area, although some travel hundreds of miles to wintering areas. Resident geese are distinct from the migratory populations that breed in northern Canada. Banding studies have shown that resident geese are not simply migrant geese that stopped flying north to breed. In fact, Canada geese have a strong tendency to return to where they were born and use the same nesting and feeding sites year after year. This makes it hard to eliminate geese once they become settled in a local area.

Discouraging Geese
There are many ways to discourage Canada geese from settling in your area. No single technique is universally effective and socially acceptable. Persistent application of a combination of methods is usually necessary and yields the best results.

Goose problems in suburban areas are especially difficult because birds are not afraid of people and may become accustomed to scaring techniques. Also, some techniques are not compatible with desired uses of suburban properties. For example, loud noisemakers in residential areas, putting grid wires over swimming areas, or letting grass grow tall on athletic fields, are not practical remedies in those situations. But don't rule out any technique that might be feasible. Dogs under strict supervision can safely be used in parks and schools, and controlled hunting has been successfully used at some golf courses.

Initiate control measures as soon as you notice geese in your area and be persistent. Once geese settle in a particular location, they will be more tolerant of disturbances and be difficult to disperse. No method works well with just a few attempts, and a comprehensive, long-term strategy is usually needed. Control measures work in various ways. Some reduce the biological capacity of an area to support geese by reducing availability of food or habitat. Other methods disperse geese to other sites where, hopefully, they are of less concern. Some techniques reduce the actual number of geese to a level that people can tolerate. Control techniques described here include those that have the best chance for success based on past experience.

Modify Habitat
Geese are grazing birds that prefer short, green grass or other herbaceous vegetation for feeding. Well-manicured lawns and newly seeded areas provide excellent habitat for these grazing birds. Wherever possible, let grass or other vegetation grow to its full height (10-14") around water bodies so that it is less attractive to geese.

It is very difficult to eliminate goose nesting habitat. Geese rarely nest in open lawns where they feed. Typically, they build nests on the ground close to water, hidden by vegetation. However, geese are very adaptable and nest in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, flower gardens, and rooftops. Islands and peninsulas are preferred nesting sites, and often support many more nesting geese than mainland shorelines. Avoid creating such features during landscaping of ponds in problem areas. Local zoning regulations may be a way to discourage habitat developments that favor geese.

Install Fencing during the Molting Period
Fencing or other physical barriers can be effective where geese tend to land on water and walk up onto adjacent lawns to feed or rest. Fencing works best during the summer molt (mid-June to mid-July), when geese are unable to fly and must walk between feeding and resting areas. In these situations, fencing or other physical barriers installed close to the water's edge are effective ways to control goose movements. Fences must completely enclose the site to be effective.
Goose control fences should be at least 30" tall (48-60" to block aggressive birds) and solidly constructed. Welded wire garden fencing (2" x 4" mesh) is durable and will last years. Less expensive plastic or nylon netting is effective, but will have to be replaced more often. Fences may be beautified or hidden by planting shrubs close by. Snow fencing or erosion control fabric may be used as a temporary barrier to molting geese.

Use Visual Scaring Devices
Various materials may be used to create a visual image that geese will avoid. One visual scaring technique is the placement of the eagle Jackite in an area to be protected. It's a life sized eagle made out of Tyvec. You tether it to a 20ft pole and it flies and soars in the wind. Geese are normally reluctant to linger beneath an object hovering over head. Especially if they think it's a predator. Place it in a pond, lawn or athletic field and geese will be afraid to land there. Another device is a metal windmill that reflects uv light. (The ScareWindmill). To the geese it looks light a flock of birds taking off in fright.
If the geese are a nuisance at night, a strobe light (AwayWithGeese) can be very effective. It disrupts their ability to sleep.

Apply Repellents
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and DEC have approved the use of several goose repellent on lawns . Geese will avoid feeding on treated lawns because they dislike the taste. The active ingredients include methyl anthranilate (MA) or organic fish and beef products found in Bobbex-G goose repellent. These materials are available at some garden supply centers and costs about $125 per acre per application. Several applications per year are usually necessary. Therefore, it is most practical and cost-effective for only small areas of lawn.

Use Dogs to Chase Geese
Dogs trained to chase but not harm geese have been used effectively to disperse geese from golf courses, parks, athletic fields and corporate properties. Border collies or other breeds with herding instincts tend to work best. The dogs must be closely supervised during this activity. Except where permitted, compliance with local leash laws or park regulations is still required. Initially, chasing must be done several times per day for several weeks, after which less frequent but regular patrols will be needed. Geese will not become acclimated to the threat of being chased by dogs.

This method is most practical where the dog and handler are on-site at all times, or where daily service (as needed) is available from private handlers. Another approach is to allow dogs to roam freely in a fenced (above ground or "invisible" dog fence) area that is not open to the public, but this may be less effective. Dogs generally should not be used when geese are nesting or unable to fly, such as during the molt or when goslings are present. Also, dogs can not easily repel geese from large water areas, but may be able to keep geese off shoreline lawns or beaches. Although this technique has proven effective, it is often expensive and labor intensive.

Laser Lights
Specially designed high-intensity bright green lasers are very effective for geese control at night (e.g. The Bird Phazer Laser). These hand held lasers disrupt roosting geese on land and ponds during the night without making noise like other devices. Lasers works because half of most bird's vision is in the uv light frequency range (which humans can't see). And geese feather reflect a lot of uv light. When the laser beam hits their feather it creates an "Explosion" of light. It scare them without hurting them.It can be difficult to break the site fidelity of roosting geese. Consequently, flocks may move back to favorite roosting ponds once the hazing activity has stopped.

Control Goose Nesting
Geese usually return in spring (late March) to the area where they hatched or where they nested previously. Over time, this results in increasing numbers of geese in areas that once had just a few birds. Local population growth may be controlled by preventing geese from nesting successfully. Although it is difficult to eliminate nesting habitat, harassment in early spring may prevent geese from nesting on a particular site. However, they may still nest nearby where they are not subject to harassment.
If nest prevention fails, treating the eggs to prevent hatching is an option. This can be done by puncturing, shaking, freezing or applying corn oil to all of the eggs in a nest. The female goose will continue incubating the eggs until the nesting season is over. If the nest is simply destroyed, or the eggs removed, the female may re-nest and lay new eggs.

Egg treatment helps in several ways. First, it directly reduces the number of geese that will be present on a site later in the year. Second, geese without young will be more easily repelled from a site after the nesting season. Finally, if conducted on a large enough scale (throughout a town), it can help slow the growth of a local goose population, and over time lead to stable or declining numbers. Egg treatment may be necessary for 5-10 years before effects on goose numbers are evident.

One fertility control chemical (nicarbizin; *OvoControlTM) has been approved by US-EPA. This material requires repeated feeding of nesting geese during the egg-laying period. Additional field trials and applications are needed to determine the utility of this product.

Not Recommended
For almost every method that has been tried to alleviate problems caused by geese, there has been success and failure. However, some methods were not recommended in this document for various reasons. These include: use of swans (real ones create other problems; fake ones don't work); bird distress calls (effective for some bird species, but not proven for geese); scarecrows or dead goose decoys (ineffective for resident geese); use of trained birds of prey to chase geese (labor-intensive, generally not available); sterilization (very labor-intensive for surgery); fountains or aerators in ponds (not effective, may even attract geese); introduction of predators (already present where habitat is suitable, but none take only geese); disease (impossible to control and protect other animals); and use of poisons (illegal).

 

Reprinted from Cornell University wildlife management

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