We’re overrun with Canada geese – and their waste
Dozens of Canada geese, some of them goslings, make themselves at home in a Chesapeake subdivision this week. (Roger Chesley/Virginia Mercury)
When The Boss and I stroll around our Hampton Roads neighborhood, we play a game that’s impossible to avoid. I call it “Dodge the Goose Crap.”
Except we use a spicier moniker for “crap.”
The droppings – and the Canada geese that generate them so prolifically – overwhelm roads. Unsanitary and unsightly, the fecal strips dominate sidewalks. If we shift to the street, cars and trucks invariably have smashed the poop into the pavement, flattening the feces.
On a walk this week in Chesapeake, we encountered more than 40 Canada geese and their fast-growing goslings. As well as what they leave behind. They sat and grazed – and hissed when we got too close.
I therefore hold a dim view of the primary fowl that befoul our parks, ball fields, lawns, streets, retention ponds and creeks.
The same holds true for some folks around the country. The excrement from Canada geese has gotten so bad in one California community that officials might authorize thinning the herd.
The New York Times reported Foster City, near San Francisco, counted 323 resident Canada geese last year, up from 181 in 2020. Adult pairs can produce three to six offspring in a year, an official told me.
Adult birds can unleash a pound of feces – yikes! – every single day. That’s a lot of piles and smashed waste.
Mitigation efforts, including using dogs to scare them and annoying them with strobe lights, have been mostly futile in Foster City. Some animal rights activists and others don’t approve, but people living closest to the birds have had enough.
In Virginia Beach a few years back, dozens of waterfront property owners had complained and petitioned for their removal. After the feds rounded up and euthanized more than 100 Canada geese, 75 people protested.
Protesters even placed a photo of a goose at a makeshift memorial. That was … bizarre.
The long-necked, graceful geese have become an unrelenting nuisance in parts of Virginia. It’s not all their fault: Development and other intrusions to their habitat contributed to the problem.
A federal law also protects them, though maybe it’s worked too well.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act safeguards Canada geese and many other species. An explainer from Michigan State University says Congress passed the 1918 law “to combat over-hunting and poaching that supplied the enormous demand for feathers to adorn women’s hats.”
Many Canada geese today, though, flourish. State and federal wildlife officials told me this week the birds have only a few predators, including foxes and raccoons. Residents can’t legally cull the birds before taking several other steps first.
They’re so at home in some localities the birds squat in the middle of the road, ultimately straining the patience of motorists. They then take their sweet time waddling out of the way, instead of flying.
From 1970 to 2010, resident Canada geese nationwide increased from 250,000 to 3.5 million, federal officials said. More recently The Associated Press, citing the Canadian Wildlife Service, reported the number in North America had reached an estimated 7 million.
Birds formerly confined to mostly rural areas are popping up in urban and suburban communities.
In Virginia, the number of resident Canada geese was at nearly 265,000 in 1998, officials say. The estimate in 2021, following euphemistically called “management actions,” was 177,000.
Individuals can try to rid the birds from their property using non-lethal methods, but it’s often a Sisyphean battle. Don’t mow grass near the edge of the water of your site, Ben Lewis, waterfowl biologist with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, told me by email. Geese like flat areas and access to water, so keeping the grass high can dissuade them.
“Anyone with a hunting license and the appropriate migratory waterfowl stamps can cull geese from Sept. 1 through Sept. 25 in areas that are open to hunting,” Lewis added. But that’s a brief period covering a finite amount of territory.
Jeff Rumbaugh, staff wildlife biologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services office in Chesterfield County, told me residents can spread commercial repellents on their soil that irritates – but doesn’t kill – the fowl. This should drive them away – at least from you. Air horns and pyrotechnics are part of the recommended steps, too.
You also can get a permit to destroy their eggs and nests, using 100 percent corn oil on the eggs. Register with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at RCGR – Resident Canada Goose Registration Login System (fws.gov).
That, however, doesn’t solve the problem of the geese already here.
Rumbaugh’s agency will engineer a roundup if requested, but it wants to first ensure property owners have exhausted other steps. Officials will cull during the summer molting periods. Fees are passed on to the residents, homeowners associations and others who request the roundup, since no federal money is appropriated by Congress. To start the process, call 804-739-7739.
In past years, the goose meat would go to food banks or wildlife rehabilitation facilities as feed. The recent rise of an avian flu strain in Virginia, however, means the birds now are being euthanized and then buried, Rumbaugh said.
He knows it’s a tough battle. “There’s no magic spell to solve the entire problem,” Rumbaugh said.
That’s clear. Just look at the ground where these poop machines perch.
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