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Living With Wildlife Series

Living with Canada Geese in Montgomery County, Maryland

Non-Migrating Geese
Geese facts
Solutions
Population Management
More Info & Related Links

Non-migrating Canada Geese

Non-migrating Canada geese have become a problem to some people in urban and suburban areas. Because the environment there is so favorable, the birds have become a permanent fixture to the city.

The major complaint about these birds is not so much what they remove from areas as they feed, but what they leave behind.  As a large group of geese moves through a park or golf course, they leave behind feathers, droppings, and trampled vegetation.   Not only are these things unsightly, but they can also be unsafe. Substances derived from goose droppings can cause water quality problems including noxious algal blooms in the summer, as well as the spread of diseases to which only fowl are susceptible. A simple decrease in population numbers could easily improve conditions such as these.

Geese on the grass and lakeShoreline vegetation damage resulting from
geese is evident in this photo. Most vegetation has been destroyed and soils are eroding into lake
.

Canada geese are a wonderful part of the great outdoors. The aesthetic benefits of having these birds around are diverse, and they are appreciated by many. By educating the public and regulating goose populations, conflicts between bird and man can be minimized and the Canada goose will continue to be enjoyed by all.

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Canada Goose Facts

The Canada goose (Branta canadensis), is a large waterfowl native to North America. Its long black neck and black head with conspicuous white cheek patches on either side allow for easy identification of this bird.

Goose (drawing)There are two populations of Canada geese in Montgomery County, Maryland, migratory and resident. For thousands of years migratory geese have nested in northern Canada during the summer and only traveled to Maryland to spend the winter, primarily on the Eastern Shore and in the Chesapeake Bay.

The other population of Canada goose that is found in Maryland is the resident population.  These birds are not native to the area, but were actually stocked in Maryland, first transplanted from the Midwest to Dorchester County in 1935. Because the conditions in Maryland are so favorable for these birds, that is, there is an abundant food supply and no natural predators, they never leave and their numbers have increased significantly in this area since their first introduction.

Lifestyle
Geese are considered to be waterfowl even though they spend much of their time on land. In the wild, nests are located in vegetation on land, but are usually within 150 feet of a water source. In urban areas nest sites may vary, occurring anywhere from a patch of annual vegetation to the base of a mature tree.

These birds generally begin nesting at the age of three and once a mate has been chosen, the birds are monogamous for life. Beginning in late February or early March, geese return to nesting sites and lay their eggs. As a female incubates the eggs, numbering anywhere between 1 and 15, (averaging at 5), the male keeps watch and will attack anything that comes too close. This lasts for 26 to 28 days, after which the eggs hatch. The parents will then sometimes move the entire brood to an area with more appropriate food accessibility and water proximity. During the summer geese will molt and are flightless, but by autumn their feathers are replaced, and the birds can migrate for the winter.

Caution: Feeding waterfowl may be harmful and is prohibited (sign)Feeding
As many urbanites have discovered, Canada geese are terrestrial grazers that are particularly fond of lawn areas and other short grasslands. They tend to be attracted to urban sites with short lawn located next to a body of water, and will almost always choose fertilized over unfertilized grass for feeding. Geese often congregate on  golf courses, playgrounds, sports fields, or any other well-manicured lawn.

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The solutions

There are several ways to discourage Canada Geese from using an area. Removing access to either food or water can play a key role.  A big problem in some areas is that people attract large numbers of geese by feeding them.  This feeding only encourages the birds to stay in the area. It makes them people-dependent, and leads to overcrowding, which is unhealthy. Many people also don't realize that bread is not a nutritional food source and can actually harm them. The first step in reducing goose numbers in an area is to stop feeding them.

Pond with tall grasses growing around it to deter geesePond with tall grasses growing around it to deter geese.

Another way to deter Canada geese from staying in an area is by allowing tall grasses, which geese don't like to walk through, to grow up around ponds and in vacant fields. Fencing off an area will also normally work in situations during the summer when the birds molt and can not fly. A 3-foot poultry-wire fence can be effective around gardens and yards. Some people have found that using 20-pound monofilament line to make a 2- or 3-strand fence with strands about 6 inches apart works well also. For the time of year when geese can fly, putting elevated grids of stainless steel wire or monofilament line above an area can keep geese from entering, and there are other exclusion practices that can be effective.

A third technique that has been found to discourage geese is to acquire a pet. Dogs, especially Border Collies, are extremely good deterrents for geese because they represent a natural predator, and the birds instinctually leave a site where predators are spotted and generally don't return. Other ways of scaring geese away are noisemakers and scarecrows, but these are not nearly as effective.

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Population Management

Where goose populations become over-abundant, several methods have been found to be efficient in reducing their numbers. Special permits are needed for all of these techniques because Canada geese are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This Act renders it illegal to hunt, kill, sell, purchase, or possess migratory birds or their parts without a permit. Hunting seasons and live captures have been found to be useful in reducing goose populations. Other methods such as egg addling, cracking, or oiling, all of which prevent eggs from hatching, work as well. People do not always agree on what methods are acceptable for controlling goose numbers. This makes goose population management controversial from time to time, especially in urban and suburban areas.

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More information

  • M-NCPPC Natural Resources Management
    Information about Canada geese on Park property: 301-949-2909.
  • M-NCPPC Park Police
    Emergencies on Montgomery County Park property: 301-949-3010.
  • Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) - Wildlife Division
    Information about Canada geese: 301-258-7308.
  • Maryland Nuisance Wildlife Information Line
    Information on dealing with nuisance Canada geese or other wildlife: 1 (800) 442-0708.

Links to other Canada Goose Sites

Last update: February 23, 2011 - back to top