Got Geese? Want Relief?
John Haack, UWEX Basin Educator
The first breeding pair of geese to appear on most northern lakes lake is usually viewed with great admiration and awe. But as the year’s progress and geese numbers increase many of us loose that sense of awe and start to wonder what to do about the goose poop on the lawn and beach. Goose populations are on the rise and more and more lakes are experiencing nuisance problems with resident population of Canada geese. Is there any relief for lake owners? With some planning, persistence and an a little bit of goose knowledge there is hope.
Consider a few challenges
- Geese release a lot of poop and they do it often. Weighing up to 17 pounds and eating 4 pounds of grass a day. Geese have a simple digestive tract and food gets processed fast . . . just a 7 minutes from beak to butt. Kind of like a salad shooter with webbed feet. Adults can leave behind a pound and a half of poop per day. Yikes!
- Geese breed like rabbits. A female goose laying 5 to 6 eggs per nest can produce more than 50 goslings in her life time. Yes there’re cute – but what goes in comes out. Adult geese are fairly predator proof and even our fairly liberal goose hunting seasons don’t seem to be having much impact on the goose population in Northwest Wisconsin. With a national population in excess of 5 million and growing at a rate of 10 to 15 % a year (in spite of very liberal and long hunting seasons in Wisconsin) do not expect geese to disappear from your lake anytime soon.
- Goslings return to the place they were born. Banding studies have shown that resident geese are not simply migrant geese that stopped flying north to breed. The breeding geese in Northwest Wisconsin are the largest of the four subspecies of geese found in the Mississippi flyway. Like other geese they have strong tendency to return to where they were born and use the same nesting and feeding sites year after year. As many of you already know, this makes it hard to eliminate geese once they become settled in a local area.
There are many was to discourage geese from settling in your area. No single method is universally effective or socially acceptable. Recommendations include a range of options – some are not very neighborly for lake shore property owners such as loud noises and herding dogs. Others are not very practical for the average lake property owner. Repellants made from grape extract such as Reedit discourage feeding on lawns. The problem is they only work for short periods and rain or mowing reduce their impact. Visual repellents such as large flags, trash bags or mylar tape require moving every few days to prevent habituation.
Best options for lakes and lakeshore owners
- Eliminate feeding. Corn, oat, bread or other feed concentrate geese and add nutrients to the lake – unhealthy for lake water quality and maybe unhealthy for the birds too. Once feeding is discontinued geese will revert to using higher quality natural foods.
- Let lawn areas grow longer and don’t fertilize or water the grass. Geese are grazers and love new lawn sprouts. Eliminating fertilizer application makes grass less palatable. If you’re planting a new lawn use fescue rather than Kentucky blue grasses. Fescues are less palatable to geese- but hungry geese graze on any kind of short green grass or vegetation if they can get to it.
- Build a goose buffer along your lake shore a minimum of 6 to 10 feet wide with vegetation 20 to 30 inches tall or taller (An old idea. State-wide buffer standards have been in place since the early 1970s). Geese like to know they are safe and much prefer to feed in areas without taller vegetation that could conceal lurking predators. Simple strings or colored tape along the shore have limited effects. Fences along the lake are not allowed within shoreland areas. The Bayfield County Land and Water Conservation Department can provide more information and technical assistance for building a vegetation buffer along your lake. Wider buffers provide better water quality filters and better habitat for a variety of lake shore wildlife.
What Doesn’t Work
Many goose control methods has been tried. The following methods are not recommended for a variety of reasons.
- Fake swans. Geese are smarter than that most of the time.
- Bird distress calls, while effective for some birds, don’t work well on geese.
- Scarecrows or dead goose decoys are ineffective for resident geese.
- Fences along lake are illegal. They obstruct other wildlife and are not very neighbor-friendly either.
- Shooting at geese is illegal except by a licensed hunter during hunting season and geese get used to loud noises. (In recent years goose hunting opens Labor Day weekend and extends through December).
- Eliminating eggs or young from nests is illegal.
- Fountain or aerators- they may actually attract geese.
Geese are smart. They’ll figure things out. The main strategies are to stop feeding and to prevent access to turf area. The only permanent solution is to make the habitat unappealing. Realize that we have created the ideal goose habitat with our neatly mowed and fertilized lawns along our lake shores. So if you’ve got geese consider keeping turf areas to a minimum, locating turf away from the lakeshore and separating turf areas from the lake with a buffer zone of taller vegetation.
Note: This article was intended for the 2009 BCLF newsletter. Space constraints have caused it to be scheduled for our 2010 edition.