The straight poop on Canada geese
Published 9:03 pm Tuesday, September 11, 2018
By Biff and Susan Andrews
Our Churchland relatives lost power late last week. Was the culprit a storm? A traffic accident knocking down a pole? A falling tree? Nope. It was a flock of Canada geese flying into power lines. About 7,500 people were out of power for six hours because of the birds.
About 240 planes a year strike birds, usually Canada geese. The most famous instance was Capt. Sully Sullenberger, who set his jet down on the Hudson River in New York City after a bird strike.
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We live on a small arm of Lake Meade in Suffolk. The water at one end is delightfully clean and clear. The water at the goose poop end is off the scale in terms of coliform bacteria. It’s been tested. Last fall, we had 13 resident geese. This fall, we have 23. Last spring, we wrote about a young goose on our lake with three treble hooks in his wings. When humans and geese meet, the geese usually lose.
A little history here: The goose population was at one time in trouble. Then people discovered lawns. Many migratory birds stopped migrating and became residents of any place with grass. Parks, airfields, golf courses, suburban neighborhoods — any large area with grass, especially if there is a water source nearby. Populations grew. And grew. And grew. They continue to grow — and number in the millions.
Today, we have two separate populations, a migratory group that gets hunted and a resident population that gets pampered. The migratory numbers get checked by predators, migratory mortality, late winter storms and human hunters. They don’t spend enough time in any one area to become polluters and foul a given area.
The resident geese, on the contrary, do pollute. They’re happy in suburbia, chomping fertilized grass. They nest earlier/younger than their wild brothers and sisters, and their clutches tend to be larger. Many get fed as “pets.” They tend to defend their nesting areas aggressively.
Goose poop — on lawns, in parks, in ponds and lakes, and on golf courses — is no joke, and it’s getting worse rapidly. How to control the bird populations is a matter of debate. Expanded hunting seasons, guard dogs, capture and removal programs for a given suburban neighborhood all work, but the more humane options are expensive.
The best deterrent to geese on our lake was, for years, one or two mute swans. We’ve seen a single mute swan pin ten geese against a shoreline and beat the tar out of them with his 10-foot wingspan. When the swan died, the geese came.
We wonder how many geese we’ll have next fall. And the next time the power goes out, we’ll wonder if the geese are to blame. Maybe it’s time to buy a swan.
Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.