Bird Watcher's General Store

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What’s the Beef with Geese?

Dear Bird Folks,

One of my favorite birds are Canada Geese. They are truly a well-marked bird. However, I here many people don’t like Canada Geese. What is their beef with the geese?

Rod, Needham


Hey, Rod

I like your question. You even receive extra points for not calling them by the erroneous name of “Canadian” geese (Canada geese is correct). But then you had to go and blow it all with that lame “beef with the geese” rhyme. That is all we need, a wildlife rap star.

As you can imagine, I like Canada geese also. The reason some people don’t like them is because the goose population has risen dramatically over the past few decades. They seem to have lost their fear of humans and when a flock of geese leaves an area, it is not as neat we when they found it. Although I find it odd that your friends, who daily sit in gridlock traffic on Route 128 or have to fight the crowds at the South Shore Plaza, think that it’s geese we have too many of.

As usual, the reason why we suddenly have so many Canada geese is our own fault. We have turned one of our most magnificent migrating spectacles into a neighborhood trash bird. Part of the problem can be attributed to a change in hunting practices. For years live birds were used by hunters as decoys. Hunters would raise their own geese and then tether them in a local marsh. The live decoys were great at attracting the wild migrating birds to the hunter’s blind. (Why the hunters didn’t simply eat the birds they raised and leave the migrating birds alone is something I have yet to figure out.) Eventually, live decoys became illegal. The domestically raised geese were simply released into the wild. As you would espect, these geese weren’t programmed to migrate, so they hung out year round.

Next came the landscapers. Our lust for acres of green grass is exactly what geese live for. Parks, ball fields, cemeteries, and private lawns…especially lawns that have been clear-cut to water, are loved by geese. Golf courses have it all. The highly fertilized and well-groomed fairways provide endless amounts of goose food. The water hazards offer protection and nesting areas. And if the geese need entertainment or something to laugh at, there are the golfers.

Then there is our old pal global warming. Years ago many non-migrating geese perished during the winter when snow and ice made food impossible to find. Recent mild winters have allowed more geese to survive into the spring and breed. Suddenly our handsome geese have become 8 pound, long-necked, flying rabbits.

As I said above, geese aren’t neat. Geese are grass eaters and grass is low in nutrients, so they need to eat lots of it. All grass eaters produce a lot of waste whether they be a goose, a cow or a vegetarian. An area visited by geese can become rather messy. Perhaps not as messy as our local beaches after a holidy weekend, but since geese don’t vote or spend money, it is safe to complain about them.

Your friends probably don’t dislike geese, but they feel the goose overpopulation (that we have created) and their droppings they leave need to be addressed. And believe it or not, I agree with them. Goose waste on a ball field or playground is not a good thing. However, a little goose poop on a golf course wouldn’t bother me at all. It might actually make the game interesting.