|Branta canadensis maxima - giant Canada geese
One sure sign that spring is almost here is the increasing number of Branta canadensis maxima
: that’s giant Canada geese to you and me. These large birds, once a rare sight in Ohio parks and backyards, now seem as common as robins.
The state’s sizeable urban goose population is notably due to the addition of retention ponds in new housing and office developments, which create superb goose habitat. Geese are grazers. The grassy areas around these ponds are simply irresistible to a hungry goose, which can eat about half a pound of food a day.
Wildlife biologists say that giant Canada geese are the most adaptable and tolerant of all native waterfowl species. If left alone, these 11- to 14-pound birds will quickly begin nesting along any pond or waterway, regardless of whether it’s in the middle of a housing complex, golf course or city park.
The nature of geese
The familiar black head and neck feathers of this large gray goose are off-set by a distinctive white chin strap. Canada geese nest on the ground and most return to the same breeding grounds each year.
They also develop strong bonds with one mate and are very protective of the family group they even migrate together. Come spring, however, parents chase away the previous year’s young.
|A gaggle of Canada geese
Females incubate a clutch of three to eight white eggs for 25 to 28 days. Males known as ganders act as lookouts and have the job of protecting the female, their nesting territory, and the eggs.
During last year’s spring count, an estimated 84,000 resident Canada geese were recorded in Ohio nearly 45 percent more than in 1993. As our resident goose population has grown, so too have the complaints. Each year, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) receives hundreds of e-mails and calls from Ohioans wondering how they can discourage these big birds.
I’ve asked an expert with the ODNR Division of Wildlife to share his advice on how we can cope with the growing number of geese.
“First and foremost never feed the geese,” says state wildlife biologist Dan Frevert. “They become accustomed to handouts and lose their natural fear of people. Without that fear, they nest closer to human habitation and become aggressive toward people when defending their mate and territory.”
One way to keep geese off your property is by scaring them away. This can be done by using objects such as flags, balloons, scarecrows, or shiny tape. These objects should be moved frequently, as the geese get used to them.
Landowners may also have success by using noise devices such as air horns or leaf blowers. Almost any loud sound will startle and repel geese, at least temporarily. Large dogs also can be effective deterrents. Whichever tactic you pursue, early intervention and persistence are the key to success.
“It’s critical to begin deterring geese in late February and early March before they begin to nest,” stresses Frevert. “Geese actively choose nesting areas from March through May.” He adds that late May before geese molt and lose their flight feathers provides another opportunity for property owners to discourage these unwanted visitors.
Special plantings around ponds can discourage geese from using these areas. Consider planting less palatable grass species, such as tall fescue; or ground covers, such as periwinkle, Japanese pachysandra and English ivy. And dense-growing plants that can hide predators make for less attractive nesting areas.
While discouraging geese from your property, it’s important to know that as a migratory bird, geese are protected under state and federal laws. It’s a violation of these laws to harm or destroy any migratory bird outside the regular hunting season, or its nest or eggs without a permit.
If you happen to cross paths with an aggressive goose, wildlife experts suggest a number of tactics to defuse the situation, such as:
- Maintaining direct eye contact; geese seem to pay close attention to eyes and body language.
- Don’t close, cover or squint your eyes, and never turn your back on a hostile goose.
- Keeping a confident and neutral demeanor toward the bird (i.e., don’t yell, swing, kick or act hostile).
- If a gander becomes aggressive hissing and spreading its wings at you slowly back away using your peripheral vision to avoid tripping over any obstacles behind you.
|Canada geese in flight
In spite of their ability to become a nuisance, Canada geese are beautiful wild animals that have rebounded from near-extinction. To look up and see their distinctive V-shaped flying pattern and hear their honking calls is always a reason to give pause, while their antics can make for hours of fascinating bird watching. And remember, if a goose gives you a hard time, it’s only because it’s protecting its mate and offspring.