Learning to live with the Canada goose, a real ‘poop machine’

Ask Dan Hicks about the iconic Canada Goose, and the first thing you’ll get is a smile.

“Oh, you mean the ever-developing goose hunt?” Hicks said in a telephone interview from his office with the city of Moncton.

As director of park management at the municipality, he has had complaints about the birds for years.

“It’s what they leave behind,” Hicks said, “they’re pretty productive in that regard.”

Dan Hicks, director of parks at Moncton, has tried several methods to reduce the impact of geese. (Shane Magee/CBC)

There is a good reason why people will describe a fast and efficient process as comparable to the speed at which stool passes through a goose.

Estimates suggest that a goose will defecate several times an hour and up to 20 times a day.

So a flock of 20 to 30 Canada Geese can make a mess in a short time.

“You see people doing the Canada goose two-step around the park trails,” Hicks said with a chuckle.

But the results of that prolific production are no laughing matter for Hicks and his park employees.

Moncton uses floating lights that flash every two to four seconds at night to keep Canada geese awake and deter them from using Jones Lake and Centennial Park. (Down with Geese/Submitted)

Hicks said he’s seen places where they counted five to 10 “presents” per square foot of lawn.

The birds can make it impossible for people to enjoy urban greenery by soiling lawns with feces and displaying aggressive behavior defending their nests and young.

The feces, if plentiful enough and near water, can also cause E. coli contamination, leading to algal blooms and closure of swimming and other recreation.

Hicks said the city spends about $15,000 a year buying equipment to discourage geese from nesting where they’re not wanted.

There are also a few days of work to set up that equipment and the hours spent checking how it works.

And sometimes it’s only marginally effective.

A flock of Canada geese is rounded up by biologists on Toronto Island in June 1993 to be shipped to New Brunswick for release. In this way, about 4,000 Canada geese were introduced to New Brunswick in the 1990s. (CBC)

It wasn’t always like that.

For decades, Canada geese were a rare sight in New Brunswick.

According to The assessment of species diversity in the Atlantic maritime ecozone, published in 2010, there are reports of Canada geese nesting in New Brunswick in the 1800s and early 1900s, but the population was probably hunted in 1905.

After that, Canada geese were occasionally seen in New Brunswick, but breeding populations were not reported in Maine and southern New Brunswick until the early 1990s.

Most of those birds are thought to have been introduced intentionally or accidentally.

Then, in 1993, Frank McKenna’s provincial government began importing Canada geese from Ontario.

Canada geese are loaded onto a truck in Toronto on their way to New Brunswick. (CBC)

Known as giant Canada geese, these geese were genetically different from the geese that once called New Brunswick their home.

And their recent appearance in Ontario and Quebec caused headaches for people caring for green spaces in municipalities in the southern part of both provinces.

In June 1993, 500 people were rounded up in a Toronto park, loaded into trucks and taken to New Brunswick.

The man behind the idea, Pat Kehoe, who was the county manager of wetland habitats, was asked by a reporter from CBC Toronto at the time why New Brunswick wanted them.

Kehoe replied, “Because you don’t want them.”

Canada Geese in a Moncton Park in 2013. (Kate Letterick/CBC)

Kehoe, who now works for Ducks Unlimited, declined to be interviewed for this article.

Ultimately, more than 4,000 Canada geese from Ontario were introduced to the area in the mid-1990s in an effort to create a population for hunting.

And not everyone thought it was a good idea.

Alain Clavette, a naturalist and birdwatcher, was one of the many people who sounded the alarm.

“I remember when we said, ‘Don’t do this. This is stupid,’” Clavette said in a telephone interview, “you’re actually introducing a subspecies of Canada geese that we’re not even sure about here on the territory ever.

“And they would take them because they were wreaking havoc in Ontario.”

Birder Alain Clavette said the decision to introduce Canada geese to New Brunswick was a mistake. “It’s a man-made problem.” (Twitter)

Clavette said he was concerned that the large, aggressive birds would outnumber the smaller waterfowl for nesting areas and food.

He said he saw evidence of this in the pond on his property, where he used to see several species of waterfowl, but not anymore.

‘What do you think is going on? There are two pairs of Canada Geese. That is it. That’s it,’ said Clavette.

“All varieties of green-winged teals and wood duck and whatever that might be… nesting in this little wetland I created, it’s been taken over by the geese.”

Clavette said he has seen similar situations in wetlands in southeastern New Brunswick, including the Bell Street Marsh in Moncton, also known as Wilson Marsh.

He calls this a man-made problem, an introduction compounded by the way we create green spaces.

A family of Canada Geese. Adult geese can be aggressive, especially if they have chicks. (Al Hanson/Submitted)

“If we stopped treating the environment like a goddamn golf course… you know, shrubs, tall grasses, wild plants – they don’t [even try] that stuff,” Clavette said. “They hate it. If a fox can hide in any environment, they hate being there.

“But what we do, we delete all that and we replace it” [with] grass. Open lawn.”

It is difficult to know exactly how many Canada geese there are now in New Brunswick.

“We don’t have absolute numbers,” said Al Hanson, the Canadian Wildlife Service’s head of aquatic assessment in the Atlantic region.

“But we do an annual waterfowl survey across the province and it shows that what we call moderate-breeding Canada geese populations are increasing in New Brunswick.”

In fact, Hanson said, the population has been expanding in northeastern North America for decades.

And, he said, the decision to relocate a population here likely only hastened the inevitable.

“Even if that introduction hadn’t happened in the early 1990s, the geese would probably have been here and still moved to this area as part of that larger population increase in eastern North America.”

Short fence erected along part of Jones Lake. It was also used around the island in Centennial Park. (Kate Letterick/CBC News)

Hanson said at the time that New Brunswick, with a more rural hunting culture, would keep populations in check.

“But even in New Brunswick, there’s a bit of a disconnect between where these guys live and the hunting opportunity,” he said.

The nuisance geese are a headache in urban environments, where hunting is simply not possible.

So the solution now is to find ways to discourage the geese from nesting and living in urban greenery.

For Dan Hicks in Moncton and council workers in communities around New Brunswick, that’s a bit of a puzzle.

Hicks has a lot of tricks in his arsenal. He has put flashing lights in ponds at night to annoy the geese.

The city puts nets at the water’s edge, hoping the lack of access to water would discourage geese from nesting because it would be impossible to get flightless goslings to the safety of the pond.

They have had some success with that.

They also try coyote decoys and something called a Fly-Away laser, “basically a large flashlight.”

In 2013, Hicks even experimented with the Goosinator, a bright orange remote-controlled vehicle intended to deter geese.

Dan Hicks said the Goosinator was fun to operate, but didn’t seem to worry the geese much. (CBC)

Hicks said he and his staff had a lot of fun driving it around, but after a week-long free trial, it was clear it didn’t “sick” anything and it was returned to the company that made it.

The latest experiment is a fake alligator to dock in a pond, although Hicks said they will notify 911 operators in case the human visitors startle.

Hicks said it’s all in an effort to strike a balance that both species can live with while avoiding tougher tactics like laying eggs, moving birds or killing a nuisance flock.

“We’re not there yet, and hopefully we won’t be.”

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