Geese on the Fairway


The seasons are changing, with the winter doldrums giving way, thanks to the steady drumming of wings beating upon the southern winds. These winds are beating to the pace of an ancient drum, bringing with them the lonesome calls of traveling geese, making their way from the fields and shorelines of their southern wintering grounds, back to the tundra and parklands of their nesting lands in the far northern reaches of the continent. Well, at least that’s how things used to go. In recent years this has certainly not been the case. While most Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) continue to make their way to the north and south with the coming and going of the seasons, following that ancient drum, some geese have learned to follow a slightly different drum. This drum only beats long enough to go from the water hazard of the local golf course to the fairway and back again. It is here that the slow and deliberate beating of the drum comes beak to beak with the techno paced modern world that is Humanity.


In 2017, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) estimated that between light (Snow and Ross’) geese and Dark (Canada, Cackling and White-fronted), there were an estimated 16.6 Million individuals, including an estimated 7 Million Canada Geese (not including Cacklers) which will be the focus of our literary discussion. Well, sort of. It’s not the full 7 million Canada’s we’re interested in, but rather the estimated 900,000 -1,000,000 geese in the Atlantic Flyway alone, that have decided to set up shop in our parks and waterways and have been given the new title of “Resident Geese”, differing them from their migratory brethren.  Deemed the “Atlantic Flyway Resident Population” (or AFRP for short), this population is, as the name implies, focused in the Atlantic Flyway, reaching from New Brunswick to Florida, and the Chesapeake Bay to West Virginia and all regions in between. This phenomenon of nature is not limited to the Eastern Coasts, with “Short-stopped” or even non-migratory populations being found between both the Left and Right coasts of North America. Even in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, Canada Geese have been found loafing and nesting amongst the parks and waterways surrounding Phoenix, with emphasis on the dammed reaches of the lower Salt River area. These Geese have come and stayed in the region for the same reason that Humans have came and stayed in the Valley of the Sun, golf courses, parks and 365 days of sun and warmth.


Historically, Canada Geese appeared with the cooling days of late September, marking the beginning of autumn with bands of honkers moving southwards to the steady drumming of their wings and encouraging honks from the geese in the rear of the flowing “V” formation, which is always in a constant ebb and flow, morphing from the ubiquitous V, into various forms of M’s and W’s as birds jockey for position, trying to find disturbed air from their neighbors wings, making their individual energy output a fraction of what would otherwise be an exhausting journey.  However, in these modern times of instant satisfaction, even the geese do not need to exhaust themselves traveling from their summer breeding grounds, to their wintering grounds and back again. Nope, nowadays they simply stop short of their historic grounds, and find themselves a suitable place to situate themselves for the summer, ideally someplace that will have open water available come wintertime.


Geese like places with open green spaces and abundant water, although those features don’t have to be in the same place. These areas can include green agriculture fields, large lawns, golf courses, urban parks, or the local airport. While geese are known for their tidiness and generally calm demeanor wherever they reside. However, they do tend to cause an issue when flocks of these fowl-mouthed B-52 lookalikes decide to mimic their steel counterparts, and use an airport to park and refuel, sometimes arriving in great formations, somewhat reminiscent of a bomber group coming home from a sortie. They arrive en masse and eschew the use of any runway, instead preferring to go straight to wherever green grass is showing and begin their final approach and landing, with some birds landing while others make another go around and wait for a space to open up in the pattern. At any time on an airport, geese can cause a threat to aviation, as they can be struck both while in the air, or if they were to wander across a taxiway or runway while going from infield to infield in search of food or a resting place. Taken from a paper written through collaboration of the USDA and FAA (Ranking the Hazard level of wildlife species to Aviation, 2000), geese as a whole take the #3 slot as the most dangerous species with strikes resulting in damage, following Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) and Deer (all species) in percentages of strikes resulting in damage (56.4%), although the number of reported strikes is 70% higher than deer, and 278% higher than Turkey Vultures, although those numbers have most certainly risen over the past almost 2 decades with the overall rise of North American goose populations, with significant growth of the resident population.


By now you’re probably wondering about how best to combat these landmine laying, feathered clucking device menaces to flipflops and airport managers. The answer is a haze. Hazing, using both lethal and non-lethal means in addition to basic habitat manipulation is the overall answer to how to rid the aerodrome of these pesky birds. As far as habitat manipulation, something as simple as letting the grass grow taller (barred any issue with local Buteos) can change the habits of geese. Geese prefer young green grass that both aids in their bettering their encumbered locomotion attempts when on Terra Forma, as well as digestion, as young grass shoots are much easier for a goose’s digestive tract to process and expel than older grasses and forbs. Also, if possible, a new species of plant may be used in place of normal grasses, such as endophytic fescues, which house microscopic bacteria within the plant itself, causing gastro-issues for whatever may be feeding on it (I.e. they get a tummy ache).


Resident Canada Geese are a relatively new issue by a relatively old species (and long living too, one banded individual made it over 30 years!), but through efforts of biologists and managers, solutions have been found, and will continue to be found in this cat and mouse game played by people and geese. So if you currently have goose issues, or speculate that you may in the future (these populations are still expanding to some degree) give Loomacres a call, or shoot us an email and we’ll get their goose cooked! (Bad joke, but what’re you gonna do?)


Speaking of bad jokes, you know how whenever geese fly overhead and they are in their “V” formation, one leg of the V is always longer than the other? Do you know why that is? Because there’s more geese on that side!


Do you know why all the geese in that V follow that one bird that’s always out front? It’s because he’s got the map!



Jesse Warner

Loomacres Wildlife Management