Go away geese!

Migratory birds can wreak havoc on property

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Jan. 29, 2007, 10:38 a.m.)

A message from southern lakes area residents to Canada geese:

"Get the flock outta here!"

The sheer numbers of geese populating southern Wisconsin have reached intolerable numbers for some residents and they're continually looking for ways to get them out.

Flocks can dump, literally, hundreds of pounds of feces on a beach or yard a day. The webbed feet under their 15-plus-pound bodies can trample dirt as hard as concrete. And their insatiable appetites can pick a lawn clean of every blade of grass.

But that's not all. Their protective instincts and fearless demeanor can cause them to attack and even injure a human who gets too close to a nest.

"If anyone has ever been clocked in the head by a goose wing, I'll tell ya, it smarts," said Dan Hirchert, assistant district supervisor with the Wildlife Services branch of the United States Department of Agriculture.

Dorothy and Tilio Camodeca have seen the destruction geese can cause at their summer home on Lake Lorraine in northwestern Walworth County.

"We have a sand beach that's all full (of feces). The steps to the lake are all full. It's disgusting," Dorothy said.

So what to do?

Dorothy, Tilio and about 30 people came to an informational session Saturday at Richmond Town Hall to find out. The Walworth County Lakes Association sponsored the meeting and brought experts in to explain the issue.

Burgeoning birds

More than 60 years ago, wildlife biologists thought Canada geese were going nearly extinct.

In 1970, the estimated number of the migratory birds in Wisconsin was about 1,600, Hirchert said.

Today, that number is over 150,000. Without any control measures, the numbers can grow exponentially as a pair of geese averages about five goslings per year.

Hunting efforts took about 20,000 birds last year and is just one method, Hirchert said.

"It's a great number and it was certainly needed to reduce the population," he said. "However, has it solved the crop problems and urban concerns? Not really."

Defeathering the flocks

Completely removing geese from an area is nearly impossible, but there are a number of ways--both lethal and non--lethal-to keep them from coming around and destroying the landscape.

One natural and low-cost way is to plant native bushes or taller plants between a lawn and the water's edge. The buffer makes it harder for geese to see predators and blocks their easy access to water, Hirchert said. A rocky area or fence--wood, wire or a combination of the two--can also work well.

Bob Mahoney also owns a home on Lake Lorraine and said keeping a natural buffer has kept the geese off his lawn.

"If I were to cut it all, I don't know what kind of problems I'd have," Mahoney said.

Another way is to simply not feed them, Hirchert said. Many municipalities are instituting feeding bans and are finding fewer geese on public lands such as beaches and in parks.

"People will come with garbage bags of day-old bread from the bakery and the geese are just flocking around it," Hirchert said. "That will congregate those birds in areas where you really don't want them."

Other methods can cost a few more dollars, but are even more effective.

Mike and Susan Kinney own and operate The Geese Police, a goose control corporation out of Whitewater that attended, but did not participate in Saturday's meeting. They use border collies that stalk the geese and scare them away from an area. Paddling the dogs on kayaks through the flocks is also a method the Geese Police use, Mike Kinney said.

"I can't tell you where they're going to go, but what they're going to do is look for a spot they feel is safe, where there is food and where there is water," Mike Kinney said in an interview prior to the meeting. "The geese think the dogs are predators."

Over time, geese learn that the "predator" dogs are frequently in the area and simply stay out. New flocks, however, will eventually move in.

Ben Nelson, a branch manager and wildlife biologist with Migratory Bird Management, another goose control company that uses many of the same techniques, said chemical treatments to lawns have some effect. A spray-on product called Flight Control will give geese an upset stomach that will stop them from eating the lawn, but not keep them off of it. At $250 per gallon, which only treats an acre and lasts about three lawn cuttings, it's not always the most practical option, Nelson said.

Companies like Migratory Bird Management and The Geese Police can also addle the eggs, or treat them in ways that prevents them from hatching. Coating the eggs with corn oil or puncturing and draining the eggs will reduce hatch numbers, but not keep adults from nesting or returning to an area, Nelson said.

Permits are required from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and going through companies are the easiest way to destroy eggs within the confines of federal laws.


Got a goose problem? These resources might help keep geese away.

* United States Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services division, (800) 433-0663 or www.aphis.usda.gov

* Migratory Bird Management, Milwaukee, (262) 790-2473 or www.wildgoosechasers.com

* The Geese Police, Whitewater, (262) 472-0032 or www.geesepoliceinc.com


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