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Canada geese!
Canada Geese!
Don'twait till they build a nest—Push these perfidious pooping protagonistsoff your property NOW!


Q. Dear Mike: Lately you'vecovered squirrels and deer, but our problem is Canada Geese! Theyadopted our backyard this winter as their feeding ground—andbathroom—and are making an incredible mess. I have tried chasing them,but they always come back. We cannot bring a dog into our life due toour work schedules. Is there a simple, chemical free way to chase thegeese off and make our yard less attractive to them?  
                ----Beth the M.D. in Bucks County, PA

Mike: I need to know how to get rid of GEESE!  Messy, annoying,disgusting Canada GEESE! I almost wish I had a problem with deerinstead of these obnoxious birds. At least deer don't go 'Honk, honk,honk' all day long. There must be something I could apply to the lawnto make it repel these creatures, eh? (A little Canadianese there…) Iwill be listening intently for any suggestions you can provide. Thankyou.
                ---Fred in Plymouth Meeting, PA

A. There are two types of'Canada goose'. The true migrating ones spend their winters in the deepSouthern US and Mexico, then fly up North to Canada (hence their name)to breed in the Spring. The ones depositing a pound apiece of goosepoop a day on your lawn all year long are 'resident' Canada geese.

If you have Canada geese on your property for more than a day or twobetween April and August, they are almost certainly the non-migrating'resident' nuisance geese. True migratory geese might stop and rest,but rarely for more than a day. If the geese are nesting and layingeggs, they are DEFINITELY the nuisance variety; the true migratorybirds do all their nesting up in Canada. You might find a few 'real'ones up in the far Northern reaches of the U.S. at nesting time and youmight find some lazier 'snowbirds' staying as close as the deep Southover winter; but in the rest of the U.S., birds that stay for more thana day or so are non-migrating 'resident' geese.

Where did these pests come from? Back at the turn of the Century,hunters used captured birds as live hunting decoys. When the practicewas outlawed in the 1930's, they let these 'decoy geese' go free, butthe birds had lost the instinct to migrate. Then these domesticatedbirds were deliberately relocated to virtually every state in the unionfor hunters, a practice known as 'state swapping'. The result ismillions and millions of really BIG birds that now stay in one placeinstead of flying from Canada to Mexico every year.  

Some wild goose supporters feel the damage they cause is exaggerated(here's a link to one such org: http://www.canadageese.org/),but an excellentdocument produced by U.S. Assistant Secretary for Fish and WildlifeCraig Manson  reports that the birds have caused numerous fatalairplane crashes; public beaches in several States have been closed dueto excessive fecal coliform levels traced to the geese; and thataggressive geese have bitten and injured people while nesting andbrood-rearing. Many farmers and homeowners tell horror stories of cropsand lawns eaten away and ponds and yards filled with potentiallyvirulent poop. A pound of poop per day per goose.  Count yer geeseand do the math!

The government charts the geese by four "flyway" areas. Within 10years, they expect populations to reach 1.6 million in the AtlanticFlyway, 2 million in the Mississippi Flyway, 1.3 million in the CentralFlyway, and half a million in the Pacific Flyway.

And Nicholas Throckmorton, spokesperson for the US Fish and WildlifeService, informs me that despite never going anywhere, the birds arestill legally considered migratory and protected by internationaltreaty. Now, there ARE hunting seasons, AND you can apply for state orfederal permits to 'addle' their eggs—that is, to shake or coat themwith oil to prevent hatching—but to do these things legally you mustcontact your state Fish & Wildlife agency. (It's a waste of time tophysically destroy the eggs—the geese will lay new ones.)

It is perfectly legal to chase them away, but only when they're notnest building or tending their eggs or young. Nesting begins in Apriland May. So if you've got non-migratory geese, NOW's the time to dealwith them.  Here are some suggestions:

They love manicured lawns, and will go elsewhere if you grow somethingmore like a meadow, wildflower field, or butterfly garden. If they'reentering your property from a pond, planting shrubs or building a wallalong the shoreline will often deter them.

Border collies have been used with great success; they instinctively'herd' the geese until the birds finally leave—without the dogsactually harming them. Use an invisible fencing system and the dogswill keep your property clear of geese without bothering neighbors.Border collies are very physically active dogs that need a lot ofattention; so don't get one if you won't be home a lot. But becauselots of people DO underestimate their needs, you can often find reallygood dogs in need of a home through a local rescue service. See belowfor links to border collie rescue orgs.

There are dedicated goose repellant sprays, but deerrepellant should work just as well; anything that makes your lawntaste awful should send them to greener pastures. This would also be agreat use for "The Scarecrow"—this motion-activated sprinkler wouldconstantly be throwing cups of cold water at them. A quick search ofthe Internet also found a device that looks a little like a windmill,but that reflects light and makes noise as it spins around in thebreeze. Its a little like Bird Scare Flash Tape, a branded productavailable through lots of catalogs that whips, whistles, and reflectslight weirdly in the slightest breeze; it's used to keep birds awayfrom cherries and blueberries and would, I think, make geese quiteunhappy as well.

For ponds, radio controlled boats are suggested—an idea I just love:Chase the birds while you have fun! For less active water repelling,there's a fake floating crocodile head that moves around realisticallyand a big fake eagle that actually 'flies' around its pole.
 
Mr. Throckmorton from Fish & Wildlife also suggests contacting yourlocal county extension office. Many state offices have fact sheets onthe birds with suggestions on repelling them or changing your landscapeto one they don't like. Here's what Purdue University's extensionsystem recommends:
http://www.ppdl.purdue.edu/ppdl/expert/Canada_Geese.html

For more information:

Border collie adoption and information sites:
www.petfinder.org
www.glenhighlandfarm.com

The Humane Society has lots of good info on Canada geese:
http://www.hsus.org/wildlife/urban_wildlife_our_wild_neighbors/urban_canada_geese/index.html

You Bet Your Garden Question of the Week  ©2005 Mike McGrath

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