Goosey, Goosey Gander, Wither Shall I Wander?

Hill-Stead Pond

I have nothing against our maple-leaf-loving neighbors to the north, but I wish they’d take their geese back.   Or maybe a way could be found to discourage the goose diaspora to the United States.  The thing is, the geese keep stopping and staying here, eventually joining golf clubs and messing up everyone’s tee times.  Literally.  Ever try to play through a flock of Canada Geese?  Forget the plaid slacks-a hazmat suit would be more like it.  The course will be covered in goose guano if the flock has been there for more than fifteen minutes.  Slip in it and I’ll wager you’ll be happy to cede the game to go home and shower.

Maybe your ball lands somewhere near the flock, or heaven forbid, IN it.  The geese will  run you off the course, hissing and flapping their wings.  Don’t let them catch you, because a good peck from one of those bills really hurts.  After all, when they aren’t playing golf males use the beak to fight with other males for the favor of a lady goose, and to otherwise defend the nest or family. Geese are regularly preyed upon by skunks, coyotes, ravens, crows and domestic dogs, so that beak is powerful.  One thing you can say about a gander -they’re good family men.  Canada Geese are extremely social (with each other) and form strong family bonds. The gander will go to great lengths to keep the brood safe. And female geese are pretty fierce, too.

The Canada Goose is considered migratory, and it largely remains so.  Still, in ever-increasing numbers this handsome bird is finding conditions in the U.S. to its liking and putting down roots. Flocks frequently take over golf courses, suburban lawns and other grassy areas near water. Soon the water is fouled by fecal matter produced due to their rapacious appetite for vegetation. An individual goose can make about a pound of “fertilizer” a day.   In a way, Canada Geese are a little like flying cows.

Why do the geese stay?  In some cases, it’s simple.  People feed them.  Also, golf courses, school campuses and similar spots are, from a goose point of view, perfect places to raise a family.  There is plenty to eat and perfect nesting conditions.  The ideal location has water with unobstructed views all around, the better to see predators sneaking up.  Reservoirs and golf course water hazards are made-to-order.   Once a goose couple have tried a spot and liked it, they’ll bring family and friends back in exponentially increasing numbers year after year.  Before too long, the chromosome that determines migratory behavior can even change, so that the goose doesn’t get the signal to move on and the bird becomes a year-round resident. 

Because Canada Geese make such messy, upsetting neighbors, many methods are used to scare them away.  In rural areas, where geese can make short work of grain fields, air cannons scare them off.  Some golf clubs use dogs for hire that run around putting the geese up in the air.  There are coyote decoys which work as long as someone moves them around.  If left in one place, the birds quickly figure out the ruse.  Some communities even have “egg addling”.  This is shaking the eggs so that they become scrambled egg in situ.  Bitter chemicals are sometimes sprayed on vegetation so the birds will go find less pungent chow.  The danger is that the chemical effects other than bitterness are not yet known.  Of course, many states allow for a limited season of hunting, and it must be said that Canada Geese have fed people in the northern hemisphere for hundreds of years.

Goose migration is a leisurely affair, with many stops to eat and rest so they arrive at their wintering grounds in good shape.  Families travel together, most often as part of groups that form the familiar “v”  as they fly.  The “v” helps birds take advantage of the slipstream from the bird in front, minimizing drag and enabling the group as a whole to fly for longer.  Geese mate for life, though if a mate should die, the remaining goose “remarries”.  Goslings that survive their first year often return with their parents to nest alongside them. This is one way flocks get big so quickly. Geese can live a long time-in captivity up to forty years. Wild geese don’t have that kind of longevity, but they can last longer than many smaller birds. So flocks that get big tend to stay that way.

We remain happily gooseless here at Hill-Stead.  Our pond is surrounded by vegetation-anathema to cautious geese.  Certainly some stop off for a quick feed, but none have tried to linger.  Just as well.  It’s a long drive to Canada, and I’d hate to think what they’d do to my car on the way.

See you on the trails,
Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist


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3 Responses to “Goosey, Goosey Gander, Wither Shall I Wander?”

  1. Ratty Says:

    Here in Michigan these Canada geese have become a huge problem. They’re fun to watch, but they are overrunning us. Some migrate, but some stay all winter. They can just decimate an open field of short grass.

  2. Patsy Says:

    Too funny. The geese winter in Wichita as do the ducks. Some stay all year. When they are floating on or flying in to land on the river they are fun to watch. When they decide to get in a line and waddle from one side of the park to the other, crossing the main drag..mororists aren’t happy. I still think they are fun to watch, and don’t like people who honk at them because they have no patience. They came early this year!

  3. Bridget Willard Says:

    I’ve gotten chased by a goose at a golf course; it was really scary!

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