Many people are surprised to hear that the Canadian goose was once close to extinction in this country. Over-hunting and land development in the early 20th century dramatically reduced the goose population in its native range. Beginning In the 1960’s, new conservation laws and habitat creation programs helped restore the population. Canadian geese, of course, are now plentiful throughout the United States, so much so that some people even consider them pests. In fact, Michigan in particular has an overabundance of Canadian geese (300,000, at last estimate).
In general, Canadian geese are identifiable by their black head and neck (with white patches on the sides of the face), and brownish-gray body. There are several subspecies of Canadian geese, the largest being the Giant Canada Goose, which has a wingspan of 6 feet and can weigh up to 20 pounds. Among North American waterfowl, only swans are larger. Geese tend to stay together in family groups during flight, parents flying in the rear of the young. Nests are made as early as mid-March. During nesting, makes become extremely aggressive and will zealously defend the nest against any intruders. The eggs hatch in 25-30 days and goslings are led to water within a day after hatching.
Threats posed by Canadian geese
Geese pose several threats to human health and property. Many people have had the unpleasant experience of encountering agitated geese who chase, nip and hiss at passers by. Goose bites are generally not serious, but they are painful and can leave bruises, especially on children. This aggression is usually witnessed during the nesting season as the male goose attempts to defend the nest. In urban areas, nests are sometimes located in very inconvenient spots (under a porch, by a sidewalk) that make human-goose conflicts inevitable. One local story: in 2008 an aggressive goose was pestering patrons of the City of Brighton’s Millpond recreation area, hissing and nipping at people as they walked by. The last straw for Brighton was when the goose nipped and chased the City Manager! In this case, Brighton turned to Creature Control for expert goose removal and the problem was solved within the day! (see our testimonial page for the City Manager’s comments on our service)
Besides their unpleasant nipping and hissing, geese can also carry a variety of mites, which can be transferred to human beings. A prime example of this are chiggers, tiny mites that will feed on blood and cause an intense itching and rash that can last for weeks. Chiggers live in the grass near water sources and feed on water fowl; if you see a grassy area with lots of goose droppings (indicating recent goose activity), there is a good change that there are chiggers in the area as well. For this reason, you ought to avoid any direct contact with geese as well as grassy areas where geese have been active.
One of the most prevalent problems with Canadian geese is the way green spaces and beaches can be rendered unusable by exceesive droppings. When a flock of geese lands on a beach or yard, they quickly litter the whole area up with droppings, making it unsuitable for human use. Many owners of water front property, and even municipalities, have spent thousands keeping the geese (and their droppings) away. The DNR will occasionally close beaches down due to contamination from goose droppings.
Geese also do a considerable amount of economic damage economic due to excessive grazing, especially at golf courses. Canadian geese are grazers, chiefly vegetarian (though they will sometimes eat small fish or insects). They consume many types of grains, grasses, seeds, sedges and other aquatic vegetation, but they prefer non-aquatic vegetation and will graze in corn, wheat, or soybean fields, feeding in mornings and late afternoons. Often lawn grass is preferred by Canadian geese in urban environments. They choose to feed in areas that are relatively open so that they can see potential predators and other dangers, which makes golf courses particularly susceptible to goose damage.
Finally, there is the high incidence of bird-aircraft strikes involving Canadian geese. Between 1990 and 1998, there were an estimated 22,000 bird-aircraft collisions in the United States, which cost $400 million annually in aircraft repairs. The majority of these collisions involved Canadian geese. Each year there are approximately 2,500 bird-aircraft collisions in the United States; the most famous in recent history was US Airway Flight 1549 in 2009, which was disabled by a flock of Canadian geese shortly after takeoff from New York’s La Guardia airport. The goose-strike resulted in a complete loss of thrust from both engines and prompted the captain to land the plane in the Hudson River.
Dealing with Canadian geese
Fortunately, there are many ways to get rid of Canadian geese.
There is a goose hunting season in Michigan, established in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Michigan’s goose season is in early September and January. The annual Michigan Waterfowl Hunting Guide contains season dates and bag limits, but be sure to check local township firearm ordinances before hunting geese in suburban settings.
Some people prefer visual-audio deterrents as a non-lethal alternative. Deterrents can be a cost-effective way to repel geese, if applied consistently as soon as geese arrive on your property. There are many commercial companies that sell these deterrents. Examples of audio deterrents are shell crackers, bird bangers, screamers, rockets, bird alarms, distress cries, monitor detector accessories and electronic noise systems. Visual deterrents include foggers, motion sensor devices and many forms of electronics. There are also physical barriers and oral-consumable deterrents available.
The DNR will also coordinate annual “goose round-ups.” Problem geese are trapped and transported out of the area at the request of local residents and/or a local unit of government. This program takes place in late June and early July when the birds are flightless. Since the program began, more than 50,000 birds have been relocated to other areas within the state or to other states. Some birds have even been taken to a processor and donated to feed needy people.
The DNR also allows “nest shaking” under certain conditions. Egg and nest destruction are permitted in certain areas of the state where chronic goose conflicts have not been resolved by other methods. Destroying eggs can be effective when used in conjunction with other methods. Permits are required for this activity and are issued by the DNR, enabled by a permit to the state by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For more information, check out the DNR’s Goose FAQ sheet, available online here.