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Take a gander at safe ways to get rid of geese

July 24, 2006|by JEFF RUGG / Copley News Service

Q: We live in a lovely subdivision in which almost every home backs up to a pond. It's really pretty, until the geese arrive. They spend lot of time in my yard (and all my neighbors' yards) and leave lots of presents.

I need to know what to do with what they leave behind. Our yards are littered - really! Four families, about 10 chicks per family, can mean as many as 40 geese in our yard at any time for hours daily, which makes a real mess. How do I keep their mess off my property?

I'm asking about health concerns as much as about the garden. With bird flu coming, how do we safely deal with these creatures' gifts? I mulch my grass clippings (droppings and all). Is that doing good or bad things to my lawn? Can I use their droppings as fertilizer in my vegetable garden? Should I wear a breathing mask while mowing my backyard?

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A: I understand your frustration with the geese, but you are safe with your current lawn mowing and mulching practices. It appears that any bird flu transmission is through contact with a sick or dead bird itself. Until birds are found in North America with the avian flu, I wouldn't change what you are doing.

On the other hand, there are plenty of other reasons to kick the geese off your property. They don't belong there and can do a lot of damage to shoreline vegetation, causing erosion and degrading the water quality of the pond.

The root of your problem is a conservation success story.

There are about a dozen subspecies of the Canada goose. About 50 years ago, it was thought that the biggest variety was extinct. Then some were found in various locations and efforts were made to captively raise more of them. The efforts were successful and the birds were released into many locations so if a natural disaster or disease were to arrive in one area, the geese would still survive in other areas.

Unfortunately, it wasn't learned until later that, rather than having an innate urge and ability, these geese learn to migrate. Once they have migrated, they can do it again with uncanny precision, but there wasn't anyone teaching these released geese where to go. And some of the geese that were migrating and flying over the nonmigrating geese stopped migrating, too.

Wearing a down coat, they are able to survive cold winters; they stay as far north as wherever winter weather doesn't freeze the rivers. In recent decades, many more urban retention ponds have been built and many more lawns have been planted, providing the geese with excellent conditions in urban areas that have few predators and very little hunting.

All that would be needed to reduce the growth of the goose population would be to remove the eggs from the nest and replace them with artificial ones. The female wouldn't lay more eggs and the eggs could be donated to a food pantry. (It is illegal to harm the birds or the eggs under current laws, but conservation officials could do the egg removal.)

It would be an uphill battle at first, but the geese have caused ecosystem damage in areas where they don't belong. They are even an urban pest in places like New Zealand.

When the geese arrive at your location, it is probably because of the open water and the availability of grass. Don't feed them corn or other foods and don't let anyone else around your lake feed them. In the winter, if it is possible, let your lake freeze over for a couple of weeks at a time. If you must run an aerator for the fish or for aesthetics, the open water will attract the geese.

Plant tall shrubs, perennials and grasses along the lakeshore so they can't get out of the water and go eat the lawns without going through tall plants, which they don't like doing because predators may be in there. The longer the walk through tall plants and the denser the material, the less they will go through it. Put up temporary fencing to make them fly in and out of the yard rather than walking. Steep-sided ponds are a problem for both geese and people, so that may not be a good option.

Geese don't like dogs roaming in the yard, but be advised that even though there are dog services that are used to chase away geese, and they are very effective on golf courses, the dogs can't actually touch the geese because of federal laws.

A product called a ScareCrow (www.contech-inc.com) uses a garden hose spray head and a motion detector to spray water at anything that moves in its range. It works day and night to safely repel any animal by using sudden noise, motion and a small amount of water.

Visual and noisy methods of trying to get rid of the geese are not particularly effective in the long run and can be very irritating to the neighbors. There is a product extracted from grapes called methyl anthranilate that can be sprayed on grass to make it taste bad. It is expensive, it washes off with rain and snow, and it is removed by mowing the grass, so use it only in areas where nothing else will work.

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