Photo Credit - Ty Smedes
Canada geese are among the most familiar birds in Maine. They are a source of recreation for bird watchers and hunters and symbolize nature for many people. It is challenging to miss the clear honking call of Canada geese as they fly overhead in their V-shaped formation. Geese are known seed dispersers, providing important dispersal of vegetation to grow in new areas once digested and excreted by the animal.
Never feed geese. When the diets of geese are no longer supplemented with handouts and they have to depend on the natural food supply, some or all the geese will move elsewhere. Feeding geese human food is not good for the geese because it lacks proper nutritional value and feeding attracts more geese than the area can support naturally. Stopping feeding will help to reduce concentrations of geese in an area, reduce potential for disease and parasites, and will reduce algae growth that can harm aquatic organisms.
Change the habitat. Evolutionarily, Canada geese are tundra nesters that prefer to congregate on low vegetation adjacent to open water. Thus, areas of lawn next to water often attract geese. Large lawns provide food to graze on, room to take off and land, and an unobstructed sight line to scan for potential predators. Although it can be expensive to transform a large lawn into something else—such as a play area or a landscape made up of plantings other than grass—it is the best long-term solution to human/goose conflicts. These changes can occur over time and in phases; fencing or repellents may be necessary while the new landscape is being established.
One important consideration is to reduce the size of an area to the point where geese no longer feel safe feeding on it. An open sight line (the distance from the geese to a place where a predator could hide) of less than 30 feet will generally cause geese to move to a more comfortable place to graze.
Increasing the height of the lawn to six inches and reducing the number of tender new shoots that the grass produces will also make a lawn less attractive. If you stop fertilizing and watering the area, you will reduce the palatability of the lawn as well as your maintenance time. (The grass can be kept at any height with a weed-whacker) All of the lawn— or only a wide portion bordering a body of water—can be maintained this way.
Create barriers - Low barriers may not deter flying geese from entering an area. However, since geese typically do not land in an area that is less than 30 feet wide, barriers or lines of vegetation, can be used to break a site into smaller spaces. Low barriers can be combined with above-ground grids to prevent flying geese from gaining access to planted areas.
Plant Barrier Vegetation or Erect Fences - You can use landscaping to take advantage of a goose's fear of confinement. By blocking the birds' pathways to grazing areas and safety, and reducing their sight lines to 30 feet, you can use shrubs, aquatic plants, and closely spaced groups of trees to discourage them from settling into an area.
For immediate results, use plants that are at least 30 inches tall to prevent geese from seeing over them, and plant them densely or in a staggered pattern to prevent geese from walking through gaps. Wide plantings of 20 to 30 feet are more effective than narrow arrangements. In wide plantings, winding footpaths prevent the geese from having a direct line of sight through the planted area, yet still provide shoreline access for humans
Place plants densely or in a staggered pattern to prevent geese from viewing a passage through the area. Construct winding paths that people – but not geese – will be able to use
Where space is limited, combine one or two rows of shrubs with a fence (see below). Ideally, the fence should be installed first and the shrubs planted as closely as possible so that they envelope the fence as they grow.
Geese often gain access to grazing areas by simply walking onshore from the adjacent body of water on which they have landed. Therefore, introducing a barrier of aquatic plants along the shoreline of a water body can create both a physical and a visual barrier to geese. Barriers of native aquatic vegetation that are at least three feet wide and include tall material, such as bulrush (Scirpus spp.), are most effective.
If the limiting factor is the absence of an area on which to establish the new aquatic planting, constructing such an area can help. In private ponds 30 acres or less (not a Great Pond by law) cutting and filling can achieve a stable substrate on which to plant a barrier of aquatic plants. The water level of the pond, or other impoundment, can be temporality lowered to allow construction of the planting area.
Constructing a planting area along natural water bodies can be more problematic or even illegal. A permit is likely to be required; contact the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and your town Code Enforcement Officer for permit information. In addition, it may be difficult to manipulate the water level, and placing fill in deeper water is more to create unstable, slump-prone areas.
In private water bodies, cutting and filling can provide a stable substrate on which to plant a barrier of aquatic plants. (This activity may require a permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection) The water level of the pond or other impoundment can be temporarily lowered to allow construction of the planting area.
If the above non-lethal control efforts are unsuccessful and the damaging situation persists, lethal control may be an option. Lethal control techniques include legal hunting, shooting out of season by permit, egg destruction by permit and euthanasia of adults by government officials.
Contact the USDA APHIS Wildlife Services program at 207-629-5181 for additional guidance with management options and permitting information.