Q. Dear Mike: Lately you've covered squirrels and deer, but our problem is Canada Geese! They adopted our backyard this winter as their feeding ground—and bathroom—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 to our work schedules. Is there a simple, chemical free way to chase the geese 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 deer instead 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 lawn to make it repel these creatures, eh? (A little Canadianese there…) I will be listening intently for any suggestions you can provide. Thank you.
- ---Fred in Plymouth Meeting, PA
A. There are two types of 'Canada goose'. The true migrating ones spend their winters in the deep Southern US and Mexico, then fly up North to Canada (hence their name) to breed in the Spring. The ones depositing a pound apiece of goose poop 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 two between 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 laying eggs, they are DEFINITELY the nuisance variety; the true migratory birds 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 you might find some lazier 'snowbirds' staying as close as the deep South over winter; but in the rest of the U.S., birds that stay for more than a 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 practice was outlawed in the 1930's, they let these 'decoy geese' go free, but the birds had lost the instinct to migrate. Then these domesticated birds were deliberately relocated to virtually every state in the union for hunters, a practice known as 'state swapping'. The result is millions and millions of really BIG birds that now stay in one place instead of flying from Canada to Mexico every year.
Some wild goose supporters feel the damage they cause is exaggerated, but an excellent document produced by U.S. Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife Craig Manson reports that the birds have caused numerous fatal airplane crashes; public beaches in several States have been closed due to excessive fecal coli form levels traced to the geese; and that aggressive geese have bitten and injured people while nesting and brood-rearing. Many farmers and homeowners tell horror stories of crops and lawns eaten away and ponds and yards filled with potential lyvirulent poop. A pound of poop per day per goose. Count yer geese and do the math!
The government charts the geese by four "flyway" areas. Within 10 years, they expect populations to reach 1.6 million in the Atlantic Flyway, 2 million in the Mississippi Flyway, 1.3 million in the Central Flyway, and half a million in the Pacific Flyway.
And Nicholas Throck morton, spokesperson for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, informs me that despite never going anywhere, the birds are still legally considered migratory and protected by international treaty. Now, there ARE hunting seasons, AND you can apply for state or federal permits to 'addle' their eggs—that is, to shake or coat them with oil to prevent hatching—but to do these things legally you must contact your state Fish & Wildlife agency. (It's a waste of time to physically destroy the eggs—the geese will lay new ones.)
It is perfectly legal to chase them away, but only when they're not nest building or tending their eggs or young. Nesting begins in April and May. So if you've got non-migratory geese, NOW's the time to deal with them. Here are some suggestions:
- They love manicured lawns, and will go elsewhere if you grow something more like a meadow, wildflower field, or butterfly garden. If they're entering your property from a pond, planting shrubs or building a wall along 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 dogs actually harming them. Use an invisible fencing system and the dogs will keep your property clear of geese without bothering neighbors. Border collies are very physically active dogs that need a lot of attention; so don't get one if you won't be home a lot. But because lots of people DO underestimate their needs, you can often find really good dogs in need of a home through a local rescue service. See below for links to border collie rescue orgs.
- There are dedicated goose repellant sprays, but deer repellant should work just as well; anything that makes your lawn taste awful should send them to greener pastures. This would also be a great use for "The Scarecrow"—this motion-activated sprinkler would constantly be throwing cups of cold water at them. A quick search of the Internet also found a device that looks a little like a windmill, but that reflects light and makes noise as it spins around in the breeze. Its a little like Bird Scare Flash Tape, a branded product available through lots of catalogs that whips, whistles, and reflect slight weirdly in the slightest breeze; it's used to keep birds away from cherries and blueberries and would, I think, make geese quite unhappy 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 realistically and a big fake eagle that actually 'flies' around its pole.
Mr. Throck morton from Fish & Wildlife also suggests contacting your local county extension office. Many state offices have fact sheets on the birds with suggestions on repelling them or changing your landscape to one they don't like. Here's what Purdue University's extension system recommends: