Humane and Non-lethal Alternatives
While numerous media sources and killing proponents would have the public believe that there is an “overpopulation” of Canada geese, what they really mean to allege is that these birds have reached “social carrying capacity.” In other words, although they can continue to thrive biologically at current population levels, the preferences of some individuals and government agencies to meddle with the natural environment and the non-human animals we share it with dictate that the geese need to be reduced in number.
Advocates and biologists alike know that the population levels of Canada geese across the United States are far from reaching biological carrying capacity. Though wildlife management bureaucrats describe Canada geese and other species as an 'overabundant' 'nuisance', there is no scientific 'overpopulation'. Yet, because of the density of our urban environment, and limited park spaces, social carrying capacity and tolerance for geese is reached much sooner. The perception that geese are overpopulated and pose a threat to air safety, combined with ambivalence and hostility towards them and other so-called 'nuisance' wildlife make them vulnerable targets.
Where perceived conflicts with Canada geese arise, GooseWatch NYC urges a scientific and ethical approach. Where a decidedly human problem is involved (an animal population in excess of a subjective and arbitrarily-decided social carrying capacity is indeed a human problem), solutions based on modifying human behavior or environmental conditions should be pursued. In situations where a genuine problem does exist, management strategies should be strictly limited to those that are non-violent and firmly-grounded in science. Effective alternatives are available, application of which will vary depending on the situation and conflict posed.
Air Safety - Radar Technology
Lethal management of Canada geese in New York City has been ineffective in addressing the threat of so-called “bird strikes” (while this is the preferred terminology in the aviation community, calling bird collisions with planes “bird strikes” is both ironic and cynical, as it wrongly suggests that birds are somehow instigating these incidents. To date, the only victims of bird strikes in New York City have been the thousands of birds killed by planes crossing their flight paths). Meanwhile, more effective and non-violent alternatives have been overlooked and disregarded, thereby exacerbating the threat.
Every year, more than 1.2 million flights take off and land at New York City's three major airports, JFK, La Guardia, and Newark Airports. There are also other smaller regional airports within a seven mile radius of New York City, such as Teterboro Airport. The number of total bird strikes, of which geese are but a small percentage has purportedly grown from about 200 to 400 annually over the course of past decade. It is unlikely that enhanced reporting practices are giving the full impression of incidents, likewise, increased reporting of bird strikes alone is a poor indiciation that the incidence rate of bird strikes is climbing treacherously, or even becoming more commonplace. As long as the city is home to multiple airports, it can never bring the number of bird strikes down to zero.
The flock of geese that collided with the “Miracle on the Hudson” were flying at high altitudes, unlike resident Canada geese. DNA testing confirmed these geese were migratory, flying southbound from Labrador, Canada. Therefore, even if New York City had killed every resident goose, or every single bird in New York City, such an effort would not have prevented this incident.
Ron Merritt, a biologist and former chief for the Air Force's Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) team stated that "killing 1,000 geese really isn't going to do anything…If you kill them, nature with fill that vacuum and a new species will pop up in its place.” Merritt's company, DeTect Inc., produces the MERLIN Avian Radar System, a widely used bird radar system available for conducting bird surveys, research, habitat and migratory studies, and long term and operation monitoring and mitigation of risks.
A proactive approach and long term solution such as radar mapping of bird movements has the potential to become an incredible tool available to pilots and air safety controllers. But instead of investing in such technology, the Port Authority continues to kill geese year after year despite the fact that the resident geese it kills are not likely to be involved in a bird strike incident.
Birds should be detered from airports to the greatest degree possible, yet geese are attracted to grassy areas near water, exactly the type of environment that surrounds many airports, including JFK and La Guardia Airports. Habitat modifications around airports is a vital element in a strategy which prevents bird strikes. Killing geese and other birds is a PR-motivated “band-aid” which may dupe the public into believing that state and local agencies are taking steps to ensure aviation safety, but in the long term lethal control will accomplish little to nothing, and without habitat modification around the airports, geese and other birds will continue to be attracted to these areas. In fact, by refusing to take a scientific and non-violent approach that could actually make a difference in mitigating risk, these agencies are affirmatively endangering the public.
Goose Feces - Field Maintenance
The most common complaint about geese is that they poop excessively. Any park or field requires maintenance. Inexpensive and easy to use equipment is available that can be used to collect goose feces. Where it is necessary or desirable to limit or mitigate the presense of goose feces, rather than contracting with wildlife exterminators, this approach is both non-violent and more cost-effective.
One company, Naturesweep, sells a goose poop vacuum, a self-contained machine that can be pulled behind a lawn tractor. It uses an engine to drive a brush system that's designed to pick up goose feces without damaging the grass. The feces is then deposited into a large, plastic hopper and can be used for compost.
Goose feces are the least of our parks' environmental and cleanliness problems. Despite claims to the contrary, goose poop is not a threat to human health. It is non-sensical for geese to face extermination simply for expressing their natural behaviors, especially when those behaviors are completely harmless to humans. "Geese shouldn’t get a death sentence for doing what comes naturally—especially when long-term, effective, and humane solutions exist." (HSUS)
The USDA, Wildlife Services National Wildlife Research Center, and Innolytics, LLC developed OvoControl-G, an oral contraception specifically for Canada geese. OvoControl-G is administered in bread-like bait and is a safe and environmentally friendly product that is fed to geese by hand or offered at bait stations prior to and during nesting season, which spans 10 weeks each year. OvoControl-G does not kill the geese—it simply prevents them from developing and laying viable eggs. Geese fed OvoControl-G lay fewer eggs, and the ones they do lay are non-viable and do not hatch.
Lawn modifications that can effectively deter geese include:
Reducing wide expanses of lawn.
Don’t mow grass shorter than 8 to 10 inches in length. Canada Geese dislike grass this long, and tend to avoid grazing where grass is not very short because shortly mowed grass produces succulent new shoots that geese like to eat.
Limit the amount of watering that’s done on lawns to reduce the grass’s lushness, freshness, and nutritional value for geese.
Do not plant lawns with Kentucky bluegrass. Instead, use warm season grasses as an alternative. Where adequate space is available, create a special tolerance area away from high human use areas – in other words, a special Canada Goose feeding site where the birds are not disturbed – by providing “lure crops” (food) for the birds in the special tolerance area.
Various chemical repellents and flavorings can also provide an effective deterrent for geese. Be sure to choose a repellent that is not only effective but also safe for humans, animals, and the environment before using it to treat grass.
Geese feel safe from predators where there are open sight lines, so they can see predators coming, and where they can easily escape onto open water.
Install vertical, sight-limiting components – such as tall trees, shrubs, and large terrestrial islands or fields of tall native wildflowers. This can disrupt the unobstructed line of sight of Canada Geese, and help deter them from grazing or walking on expanses of lawn.
Clump, or randomly distribute, native vegetation components (trees, shrubs, vines, patches of wildflowers, fences, and other physical barriers) within the areas of parks or similar landscapes of concern. Any barrier or grouping of vegetation that a predator could hide behind will discourage geese from congregating.
Locate ball fields and other grassy expanses as far from open water as possible.
Maintain or establish stands of trees between water and grass so geese can't fly through.
GooseWatch NYC believes it makes little sense to pursue methods of wildlife management that are unnecessarily expensive, impractical or disruptive to to the lives or reproduction of wild animals, especially when solutions involving simple human behanvior modification or habitat modification could be employed with more lasting effects. In situations where human- and habitat-centered solutions have proven ineffective in managing a genuine problem, goose egg oiling or “addling” may be proposed as a means to avoid an unnecessary goose killing plan.
Egg oiling or “addling” is a wildlife management method of population control for Canada geese and other bird species. The process of addling involves temporarily removing fertilized eggs from the nest, testing for embryo development, terminating embryo development, and placing the egg back in the nest. Returning the egg to the nest misleads the goose into believing the egg is still developing, otherwise, the goose would begin laying again.
In order to work effectively, addling must be conducted in a manner that does not arouse the suspicion of the nesting goose, and must not change the odor, appearance or texture of the egg. Comprehensive strategies and procedures for oiling eggs have been compiled by the Humane Society of the United States and Geese Peace. Oiling eggs is a proven technique for reducing and maintaining the size of a large goose population when less disruptive options have been ruled out.
Harassment and Hazing
Harassing or hazing simply means scaring geese away from your property. Hazing by border collies or kites and cut outs can be used to train geese away from private areas where they are unwanted. This is one way to teach them that the area is not a safe place to nest or feed. Border collies are specially trained herding dogs that are extremely effective for keeping geese out of areas where they are considered a problem. Border collies are the method of choice for large open areas such as golf courses, airports, parks, school ground recreation fields, corporate parks, etc.