The Canada goose (Branta canadensis) is a common waterbird found throughout North America. Canada geese are distinguished from other goose species by their white cheek patch that contrasts with a black head, bill, and neck. Canada geese are also well known for their distinctive honking call, and v-shaped flight formations during migrations. They can live up to 24 years in the wild and have a large body size (6.6 to 19.8 lbs).
Canada geese are able to utilize a wide variety of habitats. They can found almost anywhere with an open field of view and a readily accessible water body. These locations include urban areas, arctic tundra, and even the borders of deserts.
Canada geese are primarily herbivores, feeding on aquatic vegetation and grasses, including non-native species found in urban areas. During migration, Canada geese will also utilize agricultural fields as a high carbohydrate food source.
Canada geese are classified as migratory game birds, and are therefore protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Migratory Bird Conservation Act. Adult geese, their young, nests, or eggs cannot be harmed without depredation permits. However, geese can also be legally hunted during fall and early winter.
Adult Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)
The North American Canada goose population is divided into two groups: resident and migrant geese. Migratory Canada geese nest primarily in the arctic and sub-arctic region of North America and migrate south to winter in areas as far south as Mexico. Migratory timing and pathways vary widely with the migration beginning in late-summer and ending in December.
Canada Geese flying in V formation
Resident geese typically nest and reside in a localized area throughout the year and can be found in every U.S. state. Resident geese will usually only migrate when harsh weather limits food and open water availability. It is these resident populations that have experienced such explosive growth, while the migrant population has remained relatively stable.
Resident populations have higher reproductive success due to their nesting behavior. They nest in more temperate regions that do not have the same challenges as the nesting grounds of the migrant population. These nesting areas are also more frequently located in urban areas like city parks, suburban neighborhoods, and golf courses.
This habitat typically has a lower density of nest predators and protection from recreational hunters. There is also an abundance of open grassy areas for the geese to feed on. Because of their close proximity to populated areas, resident geese are involved in human conflicts more frequently.
Population levels of Canada geese have increased dramatically over the past four decades. From 1970 to 2005, the population of Canada geese was estimated to have increased from 1.08 to 5.01 million individuals. This growth is mainly the result of wildlife conservation efforts directed at the resident population. This included federal protection, guarding of nest sites, and reintroductions into areas where the birds had been extirpated.
NUISANCE CANADA GEESE
As the population of Canada geese continues to grow, the birds come into contact with humans more frequently. This interaction has resulted in several different types of human-goose conflicts.
Adult Canada Geese with chicks crossing a busy street in downtown Jersey City, New Jersey. This mating pair was able to successfully reproduce in a busy urban area.
CANADA GOOSE WASTE
A common concern for many people when Canada geese are present in their area is the large amounts of feces the animals leave behind. A single adult goose can produce 2 lbs of feces in a day. This is mainly due to their herbivorous diet. A large portion of the plant material they eat is not digestible, so it passes quickly through the goose's digestive system. This also means that the geese need to eat relatively more to meet their dietary needs. An adult Canada goose can eat up to 4 lbs of grass daily.
Frequent defecation can cause several problems. First, grassy areas and sidewalks can become nearly covered with feces. This accumulation is highly undesirable in public places and also represents a slipping hazard. There are also costs associated with the cleaning of these areas.Geese may also attack people that get too close to a nest.
Goose feces can also be harmful when washed into a nearby water source. This can result in over-nutrification and oxygen depletion of water bodies. This can cause large fish kills and lowered fish species diversity. Goose feces also contain fecal coliform bacteria. The accumulation of these harmful pathogens has resulted in temporary closings of water sources and swimming areas.
Canada geese are attracted to gold courses and are frequently managed as a nusiance species at these sites.
Canada geese can damage crops by feeding on budding plants. Geese also compete with grazing livestock by feeding in the same areas. Playing fields, golf courses, and home lawns can also become denuded due to goose feeding.
Geese crossing roads can also be a traffic hazard. Striking a goose can damage a vehicle or cause an accident. Geese can also damage stream banks by stripping vegetation, which results in increased erosion.
CANADA GOOSE-AIRCRAFT COLLISIONS
Due to their large size and weight, tendency to form flocks, and attraction to airport grounds, Canada geese are considered to be the species that poses the greatest and most dangerous threat to aviation. Canada geese are not the most common bird hit by aircraft. However, collisions with geese and other waterfowl have resulted in greatest amount of damage to aircraft and/or Negative Effect on Flight.
In addition to the danger to human life, aircraft collisions with Canada geese create a large economic expense. The cost of conducting repairs and the time the aircraft is grounded can amount to millions of dollars. Read about Control order for resident Canada geese at airports and military airfields.
There are many management strategies available for someone attempting to reduce the damage ar danger caused by the presence of Canada geese. These strategies fall into two categories: lethal and non-lethal control. It is important to note that there is no easy or quick method to remove Canada geese. Several methods are often needed over an extended period of time.
US Airways Flight 1549 was forced to make an emergency landing in the Hudson after colliding with a flock of migratory Canada geese.
These methods are most effective if employed when geese first arrive at a site. If the geese have already produced young, these techniques may be ineffective. These procedures are also more successful when two or more types are used, as geese may habituate to a single, repeated control strategy.
Altering the habitat where geese are present is often considered one of the most effective non-lethal control methods. The goal of which is to make the habitat undesirable to geese.
Allowing grasses to grow to a higher level is one way to accomplish this goal. Geese prefer shorter grass because it allows them to access the shoots more easily. This technique also requires no additional work or expense from the manager.
Planting tall shrubs or trees in open areas will also reduce the attractiveness of a site. Geese prefer areas without this type of cover so predators cannot approach them unseen.
Preventing Canada geese from being able to move from grazing/nesting areas to water without flying is another effective habitat modification. This can be accomplished by installing fencing, placing boulders, or planting tightly growing shrubs around open water. This is especially effective while geese are molting (June and/or July) because they are unable to fly.
Habitat can also be modified by planting less desirable grasses and other plants. For example, Canada geese may avoid tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) that contains an endophytic fungus.
Hazing is accomplished by chasing geese out of an area. To be effective, it must be done continuously until the geese leave and continued if and when they return. Dogs are frequently used to haze Canada geese in urban areas.
Pyrotechnics, flagging, distress calls, balloons, and scarecrows are devices used to scare geese away from an area. They are best used in conjunction with other management options and at night when the geese are roosting.
Canada geese can be trapped and relocated to another area by driving them into a funnel trap when they are molting. However, this method is very costly and labor intensive, so it is typically only used in extreme situations. It may also be ineffective because geese that have lived in an urban environment will often return to this same type of habitat.
Chemicals can be applied to fields that make grasses unpalatable to geese. Examples of chemical repellants are ReJeXiT, Repel, and FlightControl. These repellants are often costly and large amounts are required to be effective. Some reppellants can also be washed away by precipiation.
One of the easiest was to help prevent geese from using a given area is to keep the public from feeding the birds. Once geese have been fed it is very difficult to get them to leave that area.
Lethal removal of Canada geese is often used as a last resort due to the potential for a negative reaction from the public. However, these methods may succeed when non-lethal control fails.
Destroying the nests and/or eggs of Canada geese may influence the birds to leave an area. However, they may simply re-nest in the same location. This can be prevented by rendering the eggs unviable. Covering the eggs in oil, shaking, and addling (drilling a small hole in the shell) will keep the eggs from hatching. This will not cause the adults to move to another area, but will help control population levels. Prior to destroying Canada geese nests/eggs, land owners must register with the USFWS Resident Canada Goose Nest and Egg Registration Site, found at https://epermits.fws.gov/eRCGR/geSI.aspx. Loomacres staff is able to assist any landowners with any questions regarding nest and egg depredation.
LEGAL HUNTING/LETHAL REMOVAL
Special hunting seasons have been opened that target local populations. These can be effective in controling population levels. Individual problem geese that must be removed can also be targeted.