WHEN RESIDENT GEESE BECOME A PROBLEM
from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Ocean Pines has a growing flock of resident Canada geese and other waterfowl. Here is some information on dealing with these resident populations when they become too numerous.
Canada geese are a valuable natural resource and a source of recreation to the general public, bird watchers, and hunters. Of all the waterfowl, geese are particularly opportunistic and can easily become accustomed to people. In many areas of the United States, resident Canada goose populations have increased dramatically since the 1960's. Flocks of non-migrating Canada geese have become established throughout Maryland and other Atlantic flyway states. In urban areas, Canada geese have responded to landscape features that provide expanses of short grass for food, lack of natural predators, absence of hunting, and hand feeding by some people.
Although most people find a few geese acceptable, problems develop as local flocks grow and the droppings become excessive (a goose produces a pound of droppings per day). Problems include over-grazed lawns, accumulations of droppings and feathers on play areas and walkways, nutrient loading in ponds, public health concerns at beaches and drinking water supplies, aggressive behavior by nesting birds, and safety hazards near roads and airports. Geese can also damage agricultural crops by excessive grazing.
The information contained here describes the most effective methods available to discourage geese from settling on your property and to reduce problems with geese that have already become established on a site.
Resident Canada Goose Biology
Because of their short migrations and their association with nonhunted locales in urban areas, resident Canada geese have low exposure to hunting in the fall and winter and have high survival relative to migrant geese. The result is that they live longer; 15-25 year old resident geese are common. They also tend to breed earlier in life and lay larger clutches of eggs and nest in a more hospitable environment than migrant geese.
Most resident geese begin breeding when they are 2-3 years old and they nest every year for the rest of their lives. They mate for life, but if one member dies, the other will mate again. Geese lay an average of 5 eggs per nest, and about half will hatch and become free-flying birds in the fall. A female goose may produce more than 50 young over her lifetime.
The annual life cycle for geese begins in late winter when adult pairs return to nesting areas in late February or March. Egg laying and incubation generally extend through April, with the peak of hatching in late April or early May, depending on location in the state. Geese will aggressively defend their nests, and may attack if approached. Non-breeding geese often remain nearby in feeding flocks during the nesting season. After hatching, goose families may move considerable distances from nesting area to brood-rearing area, appearing suddenly "out of nowhere" at ponds bordered by lawns.
After nesting, geese undergo an annual feather molt, a 4-5 week flightless period when they shed and re-grow their outer wing feathers. Molting occurs between mid-June and late July, and the birds resume flight in August. During the molt, geese congregate on ponds or lakes that provide a safe place to rest, feed, and escape danger. Severe problems often occur at this time of year because the geese concentrate on lawns next to water. Some geese without young travel hundreds of miles northward to favored molting areas. These "molt migrations" account for the disappearance of some local goose flocks in early June.
After the molt and through the fall, geese generally increase the distance of their feeding flights and are more likely to be found away from water. Large resident flocks, sometimes joined by migrant geese in October, may feed on athletic fields and other large lawns during the day, and return to larger lakes and ponds to roost at night. This continues until ice or snow eliminates feeding areas and forces birds to other open water areas nearby or to the south, where they remain until milder weather returns and nesting areas open up.
Goose Control Techniques
The first question to ask is - How did the geese get to the problem site? If geese ALWAYS walk to the site, then consider exclusion techniques. If they fly onto the site, use harassment techniques.
Another consideration is size of the affected area. The chart below summarizes which techniques, either by themselves of in combination, may be effective for various sized areas.
Small - a 150-foot lakefront lot
Medium - a lake association "commons area" - typically several acres
Large - golf course, cemetery, soccer field
Goose problems in suburban areas are especially difficult because birds are not afraid of people and may become accustomed to scaring techniques. Also, some techniques aren't compatible with desired uses of suburban properties. For example, loud noisemakers in residential areas, putting grid wires over swimming areas, or letting grass grow tall on athletic fields or golf courses are not practical remedies in those situations. But don't rule out any technique that might be feasible; dogs under strict supervision can safely be used in parks and schools, and controlled hunting has been successfully used at some golf courses in Maryland.
Initiate control measures as soon as you notice geese in your area, and be persistent. Once geese settle in a particular location, they will be more tolerant of disturbances and be difficult to disperse. No method works well with just a few attempts, and a comprehensive, long-term strategy is usually needed.
Control measures work in various ways. Some reduce the biological carrying capacity of an area to support geese by reducing food or habitat. Other methods disperse geese to other sites where, hopefully, they are of less concern. Some techniques reduce the actual number of geese to a level that people can tolerate ("social carrying capacity").
Control techniques described here include only those that have the best chance for success based on past experience. Other methods may work, and new techniques will undoubtably be developed in the future.
Supplemental feeding also teaches geese to be unafraid of people, making control measures less effective. Feeding may be unhealthy for the birds too, especially if bread or popcorn becomes a large part of their diet. Once feeding is discontinued, geese will disperse and revert to higher quality natural foods. Geese that depend on human handouts are also less likely to migrate when severe winter weather arrives, and are more vulnerable to disease.
Feeding of all wild and domestic waterfowl on both public and private property in urban situations should be prohibited as an important step in controlling Canada goose problems. A public education program should accompany the initiation of an anti-feeding ordinance to stimulate public interest, participation, and support. An anti-feeding ordinance must be enforced to be effective and may require a penalty sufficient to deter the activity. An alternative punishment to fines is to require "community service" (e.g., cleaning up droppings) for violations. An example of a no-feeding ordinance is included with this information for adoption by housing associations, municipalities, and county governments.
The Maryland DNR will work with landowners and local units of government to make hunting more effective in solving local goose problems. Cooperators should consider opening nontraditional areas such as parks, estates, golf courses, and corporate facilities to landowner-controlled hunting. It may be necessary to acquire exemptions to municipal ordinances to permit hunting in these nontraditional areas.
Canada goose hunting is permitted in most areas of Maryland during September, prior to the fall arrival of migrant geese from Canada. Hunting is also allowed in central and western Maryland in the fall and winter, but regulations tend to be more restrictive to protect migratory geese.
To hunt waterfowl, a person must have a Maryland hunting license (which requires a hunter safety course), a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp, a Maryland Waterfowl Stamp, and a Maryland HIP (Harvest Information Program) permit. Only shot approved by the USFWS as non-toxic may be used for waterfowl hunting. Hunters should check local laws regarding discharge of firearms. Landowners concerned about potential conflicts can limit the number of hunters and times they allow hunting on their property.
Cooperators should review the goose problem affecting their properties, and contact the USDA-Wildlife Services (1-877-463-6497) for technical assistance in controlling nuisance Canada geese and/or the Maryland DNR to develop all potential hunting opportunities. Contact the nearest Maryland DNR - Wildlife and Heritage office to obtain assistance in developing hunting programs and copies of the annual Maryland Migratory Game Bird Hunting Season synopsis.
Grass Management - Geese graze on grass. Grass that is frequently mowed and is fertilized is an excellent food (proteins and carbohydrates) for geese. Long, poorly-fertilized grass is a poor food for geese and much less attractive. Canada geese are reluctant to walk through high vegetation; tall grass management limits the number of geese that can use an area. To make grass areas less attractive to geese: (1) limit lawn sizes; let grass grow 10 inches to 14 inches tall, (2) especially along shorelines; and (3) limit the application of fertilizer on grass areas to reduce the nutritional value of grass to the birds.
You can also plant grass species that are less palatable to geese, including some that go dormant in the winter. Geese tend to prefer Kentucky bluegrass, and are less attracted to fescue.
Landscape Plantings - Instead of grass, replace grasses with plants that geese do not like to eat and do not provide nesting or feeding habitats. Along water edges, plant less attractive vegetation other than grass, such as shrubs, pachysandra, periwinkle, and euonymus.
Land Use Regulation and Planning - Municipal planning boards and other regulatory authorities should work with developers and property owners to assure that urban and suburban landscapes which promote goose damage are not developed within the area under control of the cooperators.
Geese prefer to build their nests on islands, peninsulas, and undisturbed grounds. Typically, they build nests on the ground close to water, hidden by vegetation. However, geese are very adaptable and nest in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, flower gardens, and rooftops. During landscaping, do not create small islands or peninsulas in ponds; where these features already exist, consider changes to make these areas unavailable to waterfowl. Local zoning regulations may be a way to discourage habitat developments that favor geese.
Install Low Wires - Often, geese can be excluded or harassed from using lawns, picnic areas, and beach areas. This is best initiated early in the year, when geese are initiating nests in March.
Barriers: Grids- To diminish the attractiveness of a lake or pond, construct a grid of suspended wires over the water to deny the birds' access to the surface. Grids can be made of single strands of #14 wire or 80 to 100-pound monofilament line arranged in 10 to 15-foot squares. Each wire must be secured so that it remains 12 to 18 inches above the water surface. This method does not work well on ducks, but has been effective in keeping geese off lakes and ponds.
Fencing: Artificial/Natural - Geese prefer to land on water and walk up onto adjacent grassy areas to feed and rest. Perhaps the most effective tools for controlling goose movement, especially during the summer flightless period, are fences, hedge rows, and other physical barriers. All fences should completely enclose the site, with no breaks for geese to sneak through. To be effective, fences should be at least 30 inches tall (48-60" to block aggressive birds) and be solidly constructed. Chicken wire (2" x 2" mesh) or welded wire fencing (2" x 4" mesh) is durable and will last years. New types of strong light weight and nearly invisible plastic or nylon fencing is also available, but will have to be replaced more often. Snow fencing or erosion control fabric may be used as a temporary barrier to molting geese.
Some homeowners have found that a fence made of two parallel monofilament fish lines (20 pound test) strung 6 inches and 12 inches above ground level and secured by strong stakes (6-foot intervals) is quite successful in excluding geese. However, an occasional bird mortality has been reported due to entanglement. Therefore, these lines must be erected securely on stakes and checked periodically to prevent this type of problem. Some success has been reported with low voltage electric fencing. Fences may be beautified or hidden by planting hedges of boxwood or privet.
Use Visual Scaring Devices
Bird Scaring Reflective Tape - One very effective deterrent for geese is Mylar tape that reflects sunlight to produce a flashing effect. When a breeze causes the tape to stretch, it pulsates and produces a loud, humming noise that repels birds. This product comes in either ½ or 6-inch width rolls. To discourage geese from walking up onto lawns from the water, string reflective tape along the water's edge. To ensure maximum reflection and noise production, leave some slack in the tape and twist the material as you string it from stake to stake.
Use Flagging and Balloons - Canada geese are reluctant to linger beneath an object hovering above them. Flagging can be made of 3 - 6-foot strips of 1-inch colored plastic tape or 2 x 2-foot pieces of orange construction flagging. Large balloons, 30 inches in diameter, filled with helium, and tethered on 10 to 30-foot long monofilament fishing lines (50 to 70-pound test) will often keep geese from feeding and resting on lawns. Numerous flags or balloons may be needed to protect each acre of open lawn. Use light colored balloons if geese are present at dusk/dawn. Large eye spots, located so that two are always visible from any direction, will increase a balloon's effectiveness. Periodic relocation of balloons is recommended. Eye-spot balloons may be "homemade" from party balloons, or may be purchased from some garden centers or party supply stores. Balloons should be located where they will not become entangled with tree branches, power lines, etc. They may be subject to theft or vandalism in areas open to the public. If geese become acclimated, frequent relocation of the materials is recommended.
Lawn Sprinklers - In some situations, lawn sprinklers will be effective in preventing goose use of lawn areas. Geese do not like the noise and disturbance created by pulsating sprinklers. Use of sprinklers is most effective in small sections of lawn immediately around the sprinkler head.
Remote Control Boats - For small ponds, remote control boats can be used to repel geese, and may be practical if local hobbyists are willing to help out.
Pyrotechnics - Shell crackers are special shells fired from a 12-gauge shotgun that project a firecracker up to 100 yards. Using shell crackers when geese first come into an area can be effective in persuading them to go elsewhere.
Geese may also be discouraged from using an area by use of other pyrotechnics, such as screamer sirens, bird-bangers, and whistle bombs. These devices are fired from a relatively inexpensive (approximately $25) hand-held 15 mm. pistol, and have a range of 25 to 30 yards. In some states, this equipment may be considered a handgun, and its purchase and use regulated. Check with your local/state law enforcement agencies. Contact local nuisance animal control companies for a source of pyrotechnics or refer to the source list at the end of this narrative.
Automatic Exploders - Automatic exploders are machines that ignite acetylene or propane gas to produce loud explosions at timed intervals. When properly employed, particularly in agricultural damage situations, these machines can scare geese off areas when the landowner is not around to use shell crackers or other pyrotechnics. A permit may be required to use automatic exploders, since there is some fire hazard and they create loud noises. Check for local noise control ordinances. Best results are achieved when the machine(s) is relocated around the property every 3 -5 days. Explosions should be discontinued once geese have left the area. Automatic exploders can be purchased at farm supply centers or refer to the source list at the end of this narrative.
Where discharge of firearms is allowed, occasional shooting of geese can increase the effectiveness of noisemakers, as geese associate the sound with a real threat. A special Federal permit is needed to shoot geese except during established hunting seasons.
Use Dogs to Chase Geese
This method is most practical where the dog and handler are onsite at all times, or where daily service (as needed) is available from private handlers. Another approach is to allow dogs to roam freely in a fenced (above ground or "invisible" dog fence) area that is not open to the public, but this may be less effective. Dogs generally should not be used when geese are nesting or unable to fly, such as during the molt or when goslings are present. Use of dogs may not be practical near busy roads or where a property is divided into many small sections by fences, buildings, or other barriers. Also, dogs can not easily repel geese from large water areas, but may be able to keep geese off shoreline lawns or beaches. Although this technique has proven effective, it is often expensive and labor intensive.
The active ingredient in ReJeXiT® and Goose Chase® is MA (methyl anthranilate), which is a human-safe food flavoring derived from grapes. The material is available at some garden centers and cost about $125 per acre per application. Several applications per year are usually necessary. The chemical washes off during rain (sprinklers) or is removed during grass mowing. Therefore, it is most practical and cost-effective for homeowners with only small areas of lawn to protect. For best results, follow directions on product labels: if too diluted, it won't work, if too concentrated, it can kill the grass.
ReJeXiT® or Goose Chase® may not be used in ponds or wetlands in Maryland. No other repellants, including products containing formulations of MA, have been approved by EPA for use in Maryland.
Capture and Remove Geese
Relocation of geese is also less effective than permanent removal. Banding studies have shown that many relocated geese return to their initial capture locations by the following summer. Some have returned to Maryland from as far away as South Carolina. Geese taken short distances (less than 50 miles) may return soon after they are able to fly. Adult geese are most likely to return, whereas goslings moved without parent birds will often join a local flock and remain in the release area. Birds that don't return may seek out areas similar to where they were captured, and may cause problems there too. Many wildlife and animal health professionals are concerned that relocating problem wildlife increase the risk that diseases may spread to wildlife or domestic stock in other areas.
Lethal Control Methods
Control Goose Nesting - Geese usually return in spring to the area where they hatched or where they nested previously. Over time, this results in increasing number of geese in areas that once had just a few birds. Local population growth may be controlled by preventing geese from nesting successfully. Although it is difficult to eliminate nesting habitat, harassment early in spring may prevent geese from nesting on a particular site. However, they may still nest nearby where they are not subject to harassment. If nest prevention fails, treating eggs to prevent hatching is an option. This can be done by puncturing, shaking, freezing, or applying corn oil to all of the eggs in a nest. The female goose will continue incubating the eggs until the nesting season is over. If the nest is simply destroyed, or the eggs removed, the female may re-nest and lay new eggs.
It is illegal to disturb the nest and eggs of geese without first obtaining a Federal permit that is cosigned by the Maryland DNR. A permit application may be obtained from USDA-Wildlife Services (Phone: 1-877-463-6497) and submitted to the USFWS-Migratory Bird Permit Office to reduce the local population, control nests located in inappropriate places, and to protect public safety. Canada geese begin nesting in late March. Thus, a completed permit application to control nests should be submitted to the USFWS no later than January 15. Additional information on egg treatment will be sent to individuals who obtain a Federal permit to control nesting geese on their property.
Eggs treatment helps is several ways. First, it directly reduces the number of geese that will be present on a site later in the year. Second, geese without young will be more easily repelled from a site after the nesting season. Finally, if conducted on a large enough scale (throughout a town), it can help slow the growth of a local goose population, and over time lead to stable or declining numbers. Egg treatment may be necessary for 5-10 years before effects on goose numbers are evident.
Shooting Geese out of Hunting Season - This lethal technique requires a Federal permit co-signed by the Maryland DNR. Usually a limited number of geese are permitted to be taken with a shotgun no larger than 10-gauge. The use of decoys, blinds, and calls are not permitted. Contact USDA-Wildlife Services (Phone: 1-877-463-6497) for additional information.
Capture and Euthanasia - Euthanasia of adult geese was used as a large-scale damage control measure for the first time in the U.S. in 1996. This technique involves the roundup of adult geese when geese are undergoing their annual feather molt. The meat from the geese is usually given to local food banks. The goslings are either released or relocated. Because of the sociological sensitivity of this action, this technique is used only after other options have been exhausted. The capture and euthanasia of geese requires a Federal permit from the USFWS and approval by the Maryland DNR. Landowners are encouraged to hire a state-licensed private nuisance animal control company to carry out this work. A list of companies authorized for this work in Maryland follows this narrative. Since capture and euthanasia operations are conducted during the summer flightless period (late June and early July), the Federal permit must be completed and submitted no late than May 15. The completed application must include a clear statement of the problem and documentation of the past control techniques attempted with a description of the results. If you want to pursue this alternative, contact USDA-Wildlife Services (Phone: 1-877-463-6497) for a permit application.
For More Information
U.S. Department of Agriculture - Wildlife Services - Their staff are experts in controlling wildlife damage and can offer valuable assistance in use of fencing, scare devices, chemical bird repellents, harassment techniques, and habitat modification to control or lessen problems with geese and other waterfowl. Wildlife Services can facilitate issuance of the Federal Depredation Permit where urgent public safety concerns are involved.
In Maryland. contact USDA-Wildlife Services at the following location:
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
2530 Riva Road, Suite 312
Annapolis, MD 21401
Maryland Department of Natural Resources - Your local Maryland DNR Wildlife and Heritage Division office will be listed under State of Maryland, Department of Natural Resources, in your telephone directory. The Maryland DNR generally does not provide field assistance to individual landowners with goose problems, but will work with local governments or corporations to develop hunting programs to help control nuisance goose problems.
Suppliers of Devices and Services for Controlling Geese
Goose Chase Repellant
Forestry Suppliers, Inc.
Agricultural Supply Inc.
New Jersey Fireworks
Forestry Suppliers, Inc.
746 Vertin Avenue
Salinus, CA 93901
Irri-Tape, Mylar Tape, and Flagging
Forestry Suppliers, Inc.
322 Main Street
Lyden, WA 98264
Automatic Exploding Cannons
Reed Joseph Company
Forestry Suppliers, Inc.
Ben Meadows Company
Forestry Suppliers, Inc.
Trained Goose Dogs
Environmental Quality Resources
8711 Snouffer’s School Road
Gaithersburg, MD 20879
Goose Control Contractors
A-1 Wildlife Management Services
Geese B. Gone, Inc.
Serving the DC Metro Area and Frederick County
Migratory Waterfowl--ducks, geese, and swans native to North America.
Domestic Waterfowl--Non-native ducks, geese, and swans not retained in agricultural operations.
Feed or Feeding--The act of or the furnishing of food or other sustenance which is essential for growth or maintenance of waterfowl.
Prohibition of Feeding
No person shall feed, cause to be fed or provide food for domestic or migratory waterfowl in ______________ lands, either privately or publicly owned.
No person shall create or foster any condition, or allow any condition to exist or continue, which results in a congregation or congestion of domestic or migratory waterfowl.
The Police Department and members of the Department of Health/Parks and Recreation are hereby authorized and directed to enforce this Ordinance.
Violations and Penalties
Persons found to be violating any provisions of this Ordinance shall be first (Given a written warning, which shall be filed with the ________________ (appropriate government agency). Any subsequent violations of the Ordinance shall be punishable by imposition of a fine not to exceed $___________.