Modifying the landscape can entice Canada geese to move on
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 08/30/06


In response to the Aug. 25 article "Canada geese blamed for swimming bans at Shore lakes." In nature, no creature, especially man, exists in a vacuum. Results will follow cause.

Canada geese respond to injurious human landscaping practices and government and private waterfowl restocking programs. The leading federal researchers agree: The birds pose no human health threat.

The facts beg one question: When our actions, appetites or whims have consequences for other species, how should we respond?

Landscaping. Simple landscapes — mowed turf grass near water, open vistas — play havoc with the Canada geese's migratory and nesting instincts. Protective parents seek clear, line-of-sight vistas that allow for ready identification of predators.

The local park/pond/playground combo and the home association's manicured pond are neon vacancy signs for nesting geese. The ecological hitch: These structurally simple landscapes are not indigenous to the Northeast. Scientists say that nesting geese are an ecological symptom, not the disease. Denuded of native vegetation and wildlife, poorly landscaped parks are the biological equivalent of an indoor swimming pool.

Experts advise that natural landscaping is the answer. "Geese, like other waterfowl, are attracted to habitats that meet their basic needs," notes Transport Canada. "Habitat modification is the best overall approach to long-term bird control."

"Communities that no longer enjoy the company of geese need to withdraw their invitation," writes the Delaware Riverkeeper. "Anger, stone throwing, scare tactics, use of dogs and egg addling are neither the right nor the most effective response. The most effective, sustainable and cost beneficial way to force geese to move on, to continue their migration, is to revegetate our stream banks and shorelines."

Ecological restoration can reduce pesticide dependence, improve immediate soil, air and water quality, promote a desired natural aesthetic, and restore habitat for humans and wildlife.

Diagrammed habitat modification guides provide managers with practical principles for landscape restoration. Limited restoration improves and beautifies landscapes for many species, including humans. Modification for geese means blocking vistas by strategic placement of shrubs, grasses, wildflowers, gates, fences, natural barriers and replanting banks.

Health. In 1999, the National Wildlife Health Center studied 12 sites in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Virginia to determine if organisms that may cause human disease are present in goose feces. The federal researchers reported:

Low frequency of positive cultures indicate that risk to humans of disease through contact with Canada geese feces appeared to be minimal at the four sites in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia during the summer and early fall of 1999.

In May 2005, Kathryn Converse, lead author of the study, told The Greenwich Time that health claims are unfounded: "My feeling is if they want to remove the geese, they should be upfront, honest with why they don't want them there. I personally have never seen an article through a medical journal or the Centers for Disease Control that linked an episode of human health to Canada geese."

The New Jersey Department of Health wrote, "A number of beach closings, including several in New Jersey, have been attributed to this cause (high fecal coliform counts attributed to Canada geese). However, research on this subject (including some surveillance conducted in New Jersey) has usually found very low levels of pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella sp. in the feces of waterfowl not exposed to human sewage effluent."

Goose farming. Conflicts between ongoing federal breeding programs to support shooting and suburban sprawl need to be addressed. Public or private "waterfowl production areas" at wildlife refuges and shooting preserves are a wellspring for greater numbers of geese seen locally and statewide.

The upshot, as demonstrated from Maryland to New Jersey to Illinois, is that farmed geese, raised as livestock, leave refuges, only to arrive at parks, farms or golf courses where they are not wanted. And where they are often killed as pests.

If appropriate landscape restoration is essential, education fostering respect and appreciation for native wildlife is equally so. Both begin to reconcile society's stated ecological concerns with our actions, particularly in our own back yard. Most people already live peaceably with Canada geese.

A true ecological ethic transcends farming wildlife for commercial gunning, and means more than the self-interest of purchasing green cleaning products. This is especially true on the heels of deer and goose management debacles, for which deer and geese pay the highest price.

Facts, not ignorance, should contribute to a wider understanding and a fully informed response to wildlife buffeted by both management and sprawl.

Susan Russell, Little Silver, was a lobbyist for New Jersey's laws banning steel-jaw traps and the importation of wild, exotic birds for the pet trade.
Copyright © 2006 Asbury Park Press. All rights reserved.







Geese making a mess

Published Tuesday August 25th, 2009

Growing Canada goose population fertilizes local fields, city looking for humane solution

Forget the goose that left behind the golden egg.

Your average Canada goose leaves a pound of excrement on the ground every day instead. And, thanks to a 1990s decision to import 3,500 from southern Ontario, there are now thousands and thousands of Canada geese fertilizing New Brunswick, many of them here on Metro Moncton's sports fields and golf courses.

So far, the growing gaggle of geese is more of a nuisance than a significant human health hazard. However, with these loosey gooseys letting their bowels go every six to eight minutes according to some experts, Moncton is trying to get a handle, preferably a long one, on the situation.

The City of Moncton may not be exactly working tirelessly to remedy the problem -- it's tempting but wrong to suggest they are pooped from their efforts -- but Moncton's supervisor of Parks and Grounds does say they're all over the problem, like flies on, well, you know.

Fortunately, the city's response so far has been humane, says Dan Hicks, with no efforts at poisoning flocks or destroying the birds' eggs by coating them with mineral oil, as is done in some other jurisdictions.

That should come as a relief to those who love animals and understand the birds are not to blame for doing what birds doo.

If you're looking to assign blame, it was, after all, humans who introduced the birds to add to our previously sparse numbers of Canada geese already in the region.

That's not to say the geese are not getting harassed a bit in our local attempts to encourage them to make a big V and head on down the road.

The best thing to encourage out-migration might just be outright irrigation, Hick says.

He reports the geese, as well as gulls, were a big problem when the CN Sportsplex fields opened almost a decade ago, but city crews quickly discovered they could chase off the fouling fowl by turning the sprinklers on, "whenever they got too comfortable."

Over the years, that one act, combined with the mowing and other ongoing maintenance at the Sportsplex, has greatly reduced the bird numbers.

"Geese have long memories," Hicks explained, noting for instance that Canada geese shot at by a hunter in a certain place will avoid that place in the future.

If you were wondering, the Province of New Brunswick has, for the past two years, increased the hunting season and bag limit for Canada geese in response to the burgeoning population, but hunters pose little threat to the Canada geese who have chosen to live inside the city.

Luckily, the same response the geese have to hunters seems to apply to sprinklers. Hicks noted there are, of course, always other Canada geese who will come along and choose to settle in the same sorts of places geese in the past saw as good habitats.

And that's where our own human predilections have played a role in attracting the geese, Hicks said. We humans like the grass in our fields cut short, especially the fields where we golf or play soccer or baseball. Canada geese like wide expanses of short grass too.

"They want to be able to see there are no predators around," he said. There's no chance a coyote or fox will pounce out of the bushes or tall grass if there are no bushes or high grass.

At the Hal Betts sports complex down on the banks of the Petitcodiac River, a signature cygnet landmark in recent years, that may mean letting the grass grow up between the softball diamonds.

Hicks said, however, that is an ongoing discussion with the complex's user groups to gauge which nuisance they might prefer, losing foul balls and homers in the tall grass versus stepping in a sea of goose droppings wherever they run.

So far though, the city's response has been cautious from an animal rights and environmental perspective and the results have been relatively muted.

Anyone who spends any time at the Hal Betts fields or even drives by regularly will know there are still Canada Geese in great numbers (three of the newly built fields now have irrigation systems though, with more sprinklers on the way, so that may change).

Similarly, though Royal Oaks golf course is now letting some of the grass grow up around its ponds and even using the scent of fox to scare the flocks, many of the geese have not been deterred.


Published October 07 2009

A swan song for Noonan's geese?

The swans at Noonan Park in Alexandria are fooling people and geese. That’s a good thing, especially the part about the geese.

The swans at Noonan Park in Alexandria are fooling people and geese.

That’s a good thing, especially the part about the geese.

The swans – four of them – are actually decoys placed by the Alexandria Park Department in an effort to discourage more geese from landing in the park.

Park Superintendent Bill Thoennes has been trying to control the growing goose problem at Noonan for sometime now.

Their droppings created a mucky mess of the pond this past spring, which cleared up after the city treated the water. But the problems continue to surface.

The over-population of geese has also created “landmines” that park strollers are finding harder and harder to avoid.

So about a month ago, Thoennes, acting on something he had heard about swans and geese not getting along, went out and bought a couple of pair of swan decoys for $160.

Park crews placed them at strategic locations on the pond, re-positioning them occasionally to add to the realism.

So far, the ploy appears to be working, Thoennes said. He said the goose population at Noonan’s for this time of year is down.

Thoennes said he’s witnessed the swans’ effectiveness.

“I’ve watched a formation of geese coming in, set their wings but then after looking down and seeing the swans, they flew off in another direction,” he said.

The swans, which move when stirred by a breeze, have also fooled a few two-legged passersby.

“We’ve had a few phone calls from people saying, ‘Do you know you have swans at Noonan’s Park?’ ” Thoennes said.

It shows the lifelike swans are doing their job – and stopping more geese from doing theirs.