Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

July 8, 2012

Don’t feed the geese

By John Martino
Outdoors columnist

— Nothing goes toge-ther better than summertime and parks. Unfort-unately it can also signal the time for the annual “people-versus-geese” standoff.

Last week, I listened intently as a young lady, who is a frequent walker in our city parks, voiced her concern over the large number of geese and the unsightly “jewels” they leave behind.

“I wish they would just go away,” she said.

Then, just a short distance away, another lady and two children stood feeding stale bread to a large group of birds.

Canada geese are a valuable natural resource, providing recreation to bird watchers, hunters and the general public. The beautiful “V” formation of migrating birds soaring high overhead is a sure sign of changing seasons. But in recent years, large flocks of resident geese have become year round inhabitants of our parks, golf courses and residential areas.

As a child growing up right here in Kokomo, Canada geese were seldom seen. But over the past several decades they have become an all-too-common occurrence. Once reduced through unregulated hunting and habitat loss, these birds have made a remarkable rebound, to the point where they have in some cases become problematic. This is especially true of resident birds that remain in our urban areas year round. But don’t blame the birds. We helped create it!

Kokomo is no different than other cities across the United States. Parks and similar places provide the perfect setting for these raucous waterfowl, especially when constructed near adjacent waterways and lush, green open areas. Short grass with water nearby is a goose bonanza. But the problem isn’t the parks, it’s people. Well-meaning individuals feed geese because they believe it is the right thing to do. Unfortunately it isn’t. Free handouts guarantee the birds will stay.

While feeding them may seem fun, it is not healthy for our parks or the birds. Canada geese are migratory, flying south in the winter and north during the summer. Feeding them encourages them to stop migrating and leads to domestication. The result is an overpopulation of geese, which in turn causes environmental damage, creates unsanitary conditions and adds excess pollutants to neighboring waterways. Overpopulation also leads to the spread of diseases among the flocks. Human food is not meant to be fed to waterfowl and in the long turn can also lead to deformities.

Geese that do not migrate also rapidly lose their fear of humans and can become territorial and aggressive.

Many parks departments and others experiencing geese problems employ several types of aversion techniques. First, you can limit the growth of flocks by preventing hatching. This is done by treating eggs shortly after they are laid. This can work — unfortunately all geese do not nest in the same general area and finding nests can at times be difficult, especially when spread among urban areas.

Placing a barrier like cable, rope or fencing between the waterway and open land is another avenue. This helps prevent geese from landing in the water then making their way up a gradual, sloping bank to open areas to feed. Letting creek banks grow up with native vegetation can also help provide a natural barrier.

Some professionals also use chemical deterrents. When sprayed on turf it makes the grass unpalatable to flocks of grazing geese. This method can be costly and the chemical usually lasts only several weeks, at best, depending on mowing schedules and rainfall amounts.

Some groups have resorted to using border collies to harass geese. These dogs are trained to target Canada geese, then chase them off. This encourages them to vacate the area without being harmed.

Indiana also initiated an early goose hunting season. Each year our Department of Natural Resources expands the length of this early hunting season, which targets resident birds, as opposed to the later season which is aimed at migrating flocks.

With the increase in urbanization over the past several decades the population of resident Canada geese has exploded and shows no sign of declining. There is an estimated five million resident geese in the country today.

Geese typically start breeding at three years of age and can continue for up to 17 years. Although they breed just once each spring, normally during March and April, they will normally lay four to nine eggs, called a clutch. Making matters even worse is the fact that resident birds living within city limits have few natural predators such as fox and coyote, so it doesn’t take long for city dwelling geese to reach problematic numbers.

Have you ever wondered why you see so many geese, especially during the months of June and July? Goslings hatched in the spring cannot fly until fall and parent birds will not readily abandon their young. Also, during the middle of the summer adult geese molt, dropping their primary flight feathers to grow new ones. During molt these adults cannot take to the sky either. All of this takes place during the busiest time of year for parks.

Let’s face it, resident Canada geese are thriving and it’s because we have created the perfect situation then compound the problem by giving them free handouts. Until everyone realizes this, some level of tolerance for residents, including Canada geese, has to be expected.

Tournament Results

Wayne Nolder and Bob Rose won the Thursday Delphi-Delco team bass tourney with three largemouth weighing 5 pounds. Second place went to Mike Nolder and Dennis Goff with two fish totaling 4 pounds, 2 ounces. A 2-pound, 7-ounce fish also gave them the tourney’s “biggest bass” honor. Mike and Aaron Harrison grabbed third place with one fish tipping the scales at 1 pound, 10 ounces.

• John Martino is the Tribune’s outdoors columnist. He may be reached by email at jmartinooutdoors@att.net.