UPDATE: The non-migratory Canada goose population in our parks has become significantly overabundant – posing health and safety risks to our visitors, and damaging our parks. This June, Montgomery Parks will add a new tool to the population management program that will remove geese from Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreational and Rock Creek Regional Parks.
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.
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 damaged vegetation. Not only are these things unsightly, but they can also be unsafe. Substances derived from goose droppings can contain coliform bacteria as well as high levels of nitrogen. This contributes to impaired and potentially hazardous water quality. Their feces may also be a contributing factor to algal blooms and resulting toxic microcystin contamination. A simple decrease in population numbers could easily improve conditions such as these.
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 geese populations, conflicts between birds and people can be minimized and a healthier balance can be achieved.
As explained above, the impacts from non-migratory Canada geese have been significant enough to warrant population management. Montgomery Parks has had a ban on feeding geese in place for many years along with ongoing population management practices county-wide including, but not limited to: harassment, habitat manipulation, exclusion fencing, egg-oiling/addling and repelling devices. While beneficial, these methods are not always sufficient to alleviate impacts from geese. Despite these efforts, resident adult geese have persisted and pose a threat to health and safety. Direct removal of geese can provide immediate relief to our suffering parks.
A Goose Roundup
In order to improve public safety, the park user experience and park management challenges, the Montgomery Parks’ Natural Resources staff will coordinate the removal of up to 300 non-migratory geese from Martin Luther King Jr. Recreational Parkand Rock Creek Regional Park.
Goose roundups have been conducted on both public and private land throughout the region. Each roundup will be conducted by a federally permitted wildlife contractor in cooperation with Natural Resources staff. The geese will be corralled and removed from the park during their annual flightless period (mid-June to mid-July), while they molt their feathers. The geese will be transferred to a location where they will be humanely euthanized and processed for food that will be donated to the Maryland Food Bank. During geese removal, Natural Resources staff will be onsite to address any inquiries from park users.
Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Park in White Oak, MD has been experiencing the negative impacts associated with an overpopulation of geese for many years. Despite efforts to inhibit them from using the park and efforts to slow population growth, impacts remain significant. Of primary concern at this location are:
Nest management efforts have been ineffective since the geese seldom nest on the property but frequent the park throughout the year. Exclusionary fencing, harassment and habitat manipulation are not appropriate and/or possible in this setting and repelling devices have had very limited success.
Rock Creek Regional Park has experienced similar impacts around Lake Needwood for decades. Shoreline vegetation damage and erosion are evident. Excessive feces build up around the shoreline, boat launch/dock, mooring area, hard-surface trails and lawn areas. Geese frequently cross Beach Drive, the public road which traverses the park. The lake has frequent advisories due to the presence of microcystin toxin. Nest management has been somewhat successful in slowing population growth but large numbers of adult geese remain.
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 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 cannot 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. There are also several noisemakers on the market, used to deter geese, but they are not nearly as effective and local ordinances may prohibit their use.
The Canada goose (Branta canadensis), is a large waterfowl native to North America with a lifespan of 15-25 years. Its long black neck and black head with conspicuous white cheek patches on either side allow for easy identification of this bird.
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.
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.
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,roadways or any other well-manicured lawn.