Spring brings big honkin’ mess of Canada geese — and calls for smarter population control
As some of the seven million estimated Canada geese head north for spring, the noisy honkers will soon crowd parks, paths and paddling zones. It’s a booming time of year for wildlife control workers who use everything from dogs to hawks to try to herd geese away from people’s havens.
Vancouver looks for ways to manage booming geese population
Officials in Vancouver are asking the public to help them locate geese nests so staff can replace the eggs with frozen ones in a process known as addling. The city’s hoping this is one way it can control a booming geese population that’s caused widespread damage in beaches and parks. 2:12
At this time of year, you can count on two things in Vancouver: branches drooping with cherry blossoms — and urban parks filled with honking Canada geese, leaving trails of droppings as they waddle about.
By day’s end, one gander — pooping every 10 to 20 minutes — can produce a pile of feces as heavy as a cabbage.
But Vancouver is just one city grappling with the controversial headache of how to manage growing populations of the protected bird.
Conservationists would prefer people give the birds space to nest, make the landscape less attractive to them or consider giving them birth control. Meanwhile, wildlife technicians use a variety of techniques, from egg switching to scaring the birds with predators, to deal with the messy gaggles gathering in populated spots.
“Geese are everywhere in this city,” said Dana McDonald, environmental stewardship co-ordinator, for Vancouver’s board of parks and recreation.
And sometimes there are conflicts.
A Canada goose can poop one kilogram per day
“If provoked or chased Canada geese can bite, especially now when they are defending their nests,” said McDonald.
It’s estimated that close to seven million Canada geese inhabit North America, based on data from the Canadian Wildlife Service Waterfowl Technical Committee, but it’s unclear exactly how many of the hard-to-tally migratory birds actually inhabit Canada for part of the year.
Each year, the federal government approves hundreds of permits for culling and using predators to scare away the geese. About a million birds are also harvested each year, which requires a hunting permit.
Despite this, Vancouver’s Canada goose population is teeming. The geese were reintroduced in the 1970s, after years of overhunting. Many of the “resident geese” don’t migrate far and so they get well-fed, despite $500 city fines for wildlife feeding.
Egg addling or scare tactics
Vancouver’s urban geese gobble grass seed, damage irrigation systems and defecate on memorial benches.
So, wildlife technicians switch out viable goose eggs for frozen duds — a process called egg addling.
Hoping to target eggs this April, the Vancouver parks board began asking people to report any nests they find, which can often be spotted around nearby homes or even on roofs.
A female goose can lay several clutches a season, each containing an average of eight eggs. At that rate, even with gosling predation, Metro Vancouver expects to be dealing with 6,000 urban geese by 2025 — double what it has right now.
Park staff, wearing protective gear, empty at least a few hundred nests each year.
The method is permitted under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act and supported by the B.C. SPCA and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), according to the city.
In Ontario, nests are often destroyed and predators are used to scare geese away. In 2021, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority relocated 3,163 geese.
“They are a very stubborn species. We tend to be very respectful of species such as the Canada geese, because it’s our namesake and they are kind of regal and pretty,” said Dan Frankian owner of Hawkeye Bird and Animal Wildlife Control and Removal in North York, Ont.
Frankian has spent three decades removing unwanted wildlife.
He is paid by thousands of clients to keep properties — from golf courses to airports — goose-free. The management of Canada geese management makes up about one third of his $8-million annual wildlife removal contracts.
They will beat their wings on top of you and peck you. It will hurt. it’s like being hit with a hockey stick but not at full swing.Dan Frankian, Hawkeye Wildlife Control, North York
Frankian uses Labrador retrievers, hawks, eagles and even laser lights that mimic predator shapes to scare away geese that he believes number close to 250,000 in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe area.
“They will fly up at you and literally hit you with their elbows and wings. They will beat their wings on top of you and peck you,” he said. “It will hurt — it’s like being hit with a hockey stick but not at full swing.”
Culls are controversial
Wildlife conservationists say many of the efforts to scare or kill Canada’s iconic bird — even when “humane” methods are used — do not work long-term.
“We could not possibly addle or oil enough eggs to really make a difference in the population,” said Liz White, president of the Animal Alliance of Canada and Leader of the Animal Protection Party of Canada.
She said that a better plan is laid out in the manual Habitat Modification & Canada Geese, funded in part by the Animal Alliance of Canada.
White said she believes that naturalizing landscapes is a more effective long-term solution to deter geese.
“I would hope that people would be able to learn to share habitat with wildlife,” she said.
In Vernon, B.C., meanwhile, the city has been trying to get approvals and a contractor in place to kill about 150 geese that are leaving a mess on the turf at waterfront parks. The paperwork has been delayed by the pandemic — and plagued by petitions against it.
The plan is to kill the birds that lead their flocks to Kin, Paddlewheel and Polson parks, where city officials say the repeated turf clean-up costs are too high.
But White said “culling doesn’t work” and suggested the city would be better off planting low shrubs or high grasses along waterfronts.
“It’s really about blocking the vision from the water to the grass, so that the birds cannot see far enough to know that there are no predators,” she said of the effect of naturalizing landscapes.
Geese just need space to nest in spring and moult in summer. As for egg addling, she does not agree with switching eggs once they float, which means a chick is inside.
In Victoria, B.C., political ecologist and urban biodiversity planner Jennifer Rae Pierce says Canada geese like fresh-mown grass that slopes to a waterfront — and that means humans often end up sharing the same space as the birds.
She suggests using that to our advantage.
Given the joy people get from feeding birds, she said cities should install dispensers of goose food — but lace it with birth control.
Sort of like “killing two birds” with one nutritionally-appropriate pellet, she said. “They go where they like to go.”