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8/10/16- The Giant Canada Goose

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by Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist

How many times have you visited a park or a golf course and seen hundreds of Canada geese?  Chances are this has happened to you multiple times especially if you live in Alabama. The plentiful grass and small ponds are irresistible to this large avian species. Some people might think they are elegant, until they set up camp on their property. The Canada goose is one of the worst nuisance animals in Alabama. Although they have experienced a rough history, they are now a thriving species and causing a lot of headaches throughout the state. I will explain their history, their comeback, and how to properly eradicate the large birds.

History

At the time of early settlement throughout the United States, Canada geese could be found everywhere. Lewis and Clark recorded observations of Canada geese as early as 1804 along the Missouri River. They claimed to have spotted the geese nesting in hawk and eagle nests. It is believed that the geese found shelter from carnivorous predators such as wolves and bears. They were especially abundant in North Dakota where they were served up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Settlers also collected eggs and goslings to start their own domestic flocks at their homesteads. They grew the geese big and strong to either harvest and eat or use as decoys to attract more individuals and add them to the domestic flock. At this time, 8-11 different subspecies of the Canada goose (Branta canadensis) were recognized and they were getting massacred by settlers…which began to change the bird’s preference for habitat. By 1926, the last Canada goose nest was found in Kidder County and the species was deemed extirpated. During the 1930s thru the 1950s, anyone who harvested a Canada goose had their picture made and was featured in the local newspaper. Geese became a “trophy bird” at this point in history. If you harvested a Canada goose, you were the world’s greatest sportsman!

Comeback

All of a sudden in 1963, the Minneapolis Tribune claimed that the Giant Canada goose had been spotted. The newspaper article tried to protect the goose and sway people to view them as an aesthetically pleasing species that should be protected and valued. This began a feverish search for individual populations across the United States. Numerous small flocks were found across the Midwest which had derived from domestic flocks used as decoys or captive flocks. Regardless of how they originated, efforts to reestablish a thriving, “huntable” population of the Canada goose was underway. The mid 1960s was a time of reestablishment and propagation for the Canada goose. They were exchanged, traded and bought for privately established flocks. People began to release large groups of captive reared goslings and this began“reestablishment frenzy” throughout the United States. The TVA released over 2200 giant Canada geese in 5 different states (Alabama being one of them). Alabama’s fist successful Canada goose introduction took place at Lake Eufaula NWR with the assistance of Alabama’s Waterfowl Association. Interstate introductions continued through 1986, and intrastate introductions in Alabama continued through the early 2000s. Everything was fine and dandy, until experts realized what was happening.

Eradication

Hip hip hooray the giant Canada goose has made a comeback; a very large, expensive, problematic comeback. Because this avian species has virtually no predators, they live 15-20 years within 5 miles of where they learn to fly. They all become sexually mature at 4 years of age (some a little sooner) and are usually monogamous until they lose a partner. They are very large, protective birds that readily adapt to human and urban environments. Females will incubate eggs for 28-30 days and usually lays 6 eggs but can lay as many as 8. The goslings live on a primarily insect rich diet, but will also feed on grass with the adults. They are highly aggressive towards people and will live feces along walkways, sidewalks, parking lots, and other unwanted spaces. These birds will seek out any area where grass and water are readily available, whether it is a school, church, golf course, or park. Currently, they present a huge airstrike problem throughout Alabama and cause thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to aircraft every day. How do we get rid of these large, feisty birds? Well, one resolution involves hazing/harassing which can be done by vehicles, pyrotechnics (bird bangers or fireworks) and dogs. This management technique is only applicable before nesting begins. Legal harvest is also a solution to the problem if you are outside city limits. This is the cheapest and most effective route. You must have a permit for any harvests inside city limits. The months of June through July are a molting period for all Canada geese and it renders them flightless; they are easily rounded up during this time using fence panels. Other techniques include drugs and egg oiling to prevent future generations. It is important to eradicate geese that inhabit your property because they can cause bacterial issues to you and your pond(s)!

If you are experiencing issues with Canada geese, please call USDA Wildlife Services if you are not comfortable harvesting them yourself. The USDA will come out with panels and crates during the molting season (when the birds cannot fly) and quickly and effectively remove them from your property. No matter how aesthetically pleasing one may think the giant Canada goose is, the feces they leave behind is not. If not managed properly and in a timely manner, you will be facing multiple environmental and pond issues.

By: Red Clay

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