For Some, Canada Geese A Persistent Problem
March 29, 2012
SALISBURY -- As mating season ensues, annual efforts to control the local Canada goose population will soon commence.
These perpetual poopers, whose excessive grazing sometimes cripples fields of sprouting corn and soybeans, aren't hard to find. According to the state Department of Natural Resources, the number of resident, or non-migratory, Canada geese in Maryland increased from about 25,000 in 1989 to 90,000 in 1998. Due to population control efforts, it's estimated the number of geese now dispersed throughout the state falls within the 75,000-80,000 range.
Larry Hindman, waterfowl project manager for DNR, said these geese have become more sedentary throughout the years because they have easily adapted to the area.
"They can live in our backyards, literally, because they feed on grasses," Hindman said. "They've adapted to places where they're not hunted, like within the jurisdiction of Salisbury, where hunting is not allowed. Over time, they've just increased and increased."
Regulations on where hunting is permitted are fairly liberal, he added, with an eight goose bag limit during a special season in September and a two goose bag limit during the regular season.
Hindman said the geese were introduced to the Lower Shore for various reasons, one being to serve as live decoys for hunters. The geese were tethered in a pond where they would call to the passing migratory geese, luring them into gun range. This practice was outlawed in 1935, so hunters set their live decoys free. Also, some geese were established on wildlife refuges like Blackwater.
Now, the geese have become a nuisance, mostly due to the massive amount of feces they leave in their wake. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Canada geese deposit one-half to 1 pound of feces per bird per day, which can accumulate during their molt season or on small properties with large flocks.
Also, the geese pose a threat to local farmers' crops and can be aggressive toward humans and animals, especially during mating season. The birds cause headaches for airports, too. According to the USDA, about 80 percent of aircraft run-ins with Canada geese involve resident birds. Geese on runways can also delay flights.
A large flock of geese on the Elks Lodge golf course in Salisbury is causing major headaches, and course manager David Reichenberg said he's running out of options for removal. Last year, wooden decoys shaped like dogs, the goose's natural enemy, were placed on the golf course as a deterrent. It worked for a while, Reichenberg said, but the geese came back. Now, the golf course is pursuing a permit that would allow them to lethally remove the geese via firearms.
"That seems to be the only thing they understand," Reichenberg said. "If we didn't control it, they'd destroy the place with their poop and by pulling up grass by the roots."
Kevin Sullivan, state director for the USDA Wildlife Service for Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C., said there's a sequence of removal techniques that his agency recommends. First, property owners or businesses should try to haze and harass the birds with noise makers or a dog.
If that doesn't work, Sullivan said property owners can addle or oil goose eggs in an attempt to prevent breeding. This practice requires online registration. Addling involves poking a hole in the egg, which introduces bacteria and halts development. Oiling involves coating eggs with 100 percent corn oil, which blocks the shell's pores and prevents continued development.
The Salisbury Zoo has addled goose eggs in the area between Snow Hill Road and Beaglin Park Drive for roughly six years. Zoo Director Joel Hamilton said the city started addling eggs because it became concerned the large number of geese may transmit diseases to the zoo's animals. Also, the geese eat the zoo animals' food.
"The geese are supposed to head north for their breeding process, but they are not compelled to do so," Hamilton said. "They become residential and they become a pest."
Since the zoo started addling eggs, Hamilton said the goose population has decreased to about 25 percent of what it used to be -- from about 400 birds to about 125.
A last resort, Sullivan said, is lethal removal, which is done via euthanasia or firearms. This requires a permit from the USDA.
"The key with any of this stuff is persistence. You have to make it an unwelcoming area so the geese don't want to land on your property," Sullivan said. "There is always a chance you will end up with 20, 30 or 100 birds that just won't leave, and the state and federal government provide options (for these situations)."
- Source: Sarah Lake, Delaware Beaches
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