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Handbook for Canada and Cackling Geese: Management and Population Control in Southern Canada

Goose Control Prescriptions

 

Prevention is the best approach to goose management:

Once geese become established in an area, it can be difficult to make them leave. However, in areas where geese are established, their numbers can be controlled by both non-lethal and lethal management techniques. The following sections outline these management techniques.

7.1 Non-Lethal Management

There is no single solution to discouraging the presence of Canada Geese because geese will adapt or habituate to scaring techniques and because the effectiveness of these techniques varies from season to season; non-lethal techniques are most effective when two or more are combined.

7.1.1 Stop Feeding the Geese

Supplemental feeding encourages a high concentration of geese year-round. Geese will not abandon a site as long as people feed them. However, when the diets of geese are not supplemented with handouts and they have to depend on the more limited natural food supply, some or all will move elsewhere. Feeding geese artificial foods such as bread can even be detrimental to the birds’ health. Signs should be posted in public areas to discourage wildlife feeding, and some localities may need to enforce no-feeding regulations or bylaws.

7.1.2 Landscape Modification

Although this may not be perceived as an acceptable solution to some landowners, changing the landscape is the best long-term solution to many human-goose conflicts. It is environmentally friendly, easy to implement and non-lethal to geese.  There are several ways to reduce the attractiveness of habitat in urban and other areas to geese that do not necessarily reduce its attractiveness to humans or other wildlife. Some municipalities have realized unexpected benefits from this approach. Those benefits include greater enjoyment by the public of the larger variety of wild bird species attracted to the increased diversity of habitats provided.

7.1.2.1 Barriers

This technique is effective because Canada Geese prefer large open areas that allow them room to take off and land, with clear lines of sight so they can see predators coming and make their escape. Barriers can be used to break large open areas into smaller spaces. When moulting or escorting their young, geese are flightless so must be able to walk to grazing areas. Barriers impede access of geese to grazing and block their view of predators and escape routes to water. Barriers are typically placed at exits and entrances to ponds and wetlands or areas where geese may graze. The inconvenience and hazard associated with a barrier near preferred escape routes will discourage goose use in most cases. These barriers can include:

fences installed to prevent geese to access a beach

Photo: Mario Fournier © National Capital Commission, 2010

  • Plant barriers. Dense plantings of tall grass, shrubs, aquatic plants, trees and bushes can prevent geese from directly accessing shorelines, grazing areas or safe cover. Plants should be tall enough to prevent geese from seeing over them. Wide plantings are more effective than narrow ones.
  • Fences. Fences can be made from woven wire, poultry netting, plastic netting, snow fencing, monofilament wire or electrified wire. Fences should be placed at adult and gosling height and should prevent geese and goslings from walking around, underneath or through them.  Fences can block goose access to water and block walking routes favoured by geese.
  • Grids. Grids or multiple parallel lines of wire, cable, twine or rope, stretched 30 to 50 centimetres above the surface of ponds or over new plantings, will prevent geese from accessing the area. If the spans over ponds or fields are too great, floats and poles can be used as needed to support the grids.
  • Flight path barriers. Planting more trees or using highly visible yellow ropes, flagging tape, shiny Mylar® tape or CDs strung elevated between trees can block flight paths, making the area less desirable. The ropes should have some slack so they will move in the wind, increasing their visibility and making it more difficult for the geese to predict approach and take-off flight paths.

7.1.2.2 Modify Lawn Grass

Several lawn management techniques are available that may help discourage geese in your area.

  • Mow less frequently. Geese prefer tender young grass. Longer grass, which has had time to become coarse and fibrous is not as palatable to geese. Either all of a lawn or the part bordering a body of water can be maintained this way.
  • Change the type of grass. Alternative types of grass and hay may be naturally repellent to geese. Check with your local lawn seed supplier for coarse grass species suitable for your climatic conditions. Geese may be discouraged from remaining in the area if these grasses are planted in habitats that they normally use.
  • Apply goose repellent. Application of "goose repellent" to grass can discourage geese from using a habitat, but it may have limited success. There are a number of goose repellent chemicals available that act as a taste deterrent and are not considered harmful to grass, wildlife or people. Check with pest control service providers of wildlife control product suppliers for availability. The user must check to see if these chemical repellents are authorized for this type of use or if permits are required for their use.

7.1.3 Scaring/Hazing

Scaring or hazing works best when geese first move into an area or when more than one technique are used in combination, as geese quickly habituate to any single method. Hazing involves chasing geese every time they arrive and must be consistently applied until geese leave the area. A number of scaring techniques, some of which require a permit from Environment Canada, can be used to deter geese. Some of these techniques are described below.

7.1.3.1 Scaring Techniques Not Requiring a Federal Permit

Subsection 24(1) of the Migratory Birds Regulations states that "any person may, without a permit, use equipment, other than an aircraft or firearms, to scare migratory birds that are causing or are likely to cause damage to crops or other property." Scaring techniques not requiring a federal permit include the following.

  • Propane cannons. Portable, propane-fired exploders can effectively displace geese. Equipment must be moved regularly, as geese will become habituated to these devices. Two exploders set at different intervals (for example, one at 10 minutes and the other at 7 minutes) are more effective, because the length of time between explosions is constantly changing, extending the time taken by geese to habituate. This equipment is available from wildlife control companies.
  • Air horns or sirens. These noise-making devices can be mounted on vehicles, hand-held, or used remotely. They exhibit variable effectiveness, but proximity to human activity or housing may make their use unacceptable.
  • Strobe lights/lasers. Bright flashing strobes can disturb geese after dark or just before dawn. Although the technique is quiet, the light may disturb people. Also available is a long-wavelength "laser pistol," which can be used in low light conditions to scare geese and can be effective at a distance of several hundred metres.
  • Distress tapes. Recorded distress calls of Canada Geese or other bird species, played loudly in the direction of a goose flock, may displace birds that believe they are also in jeopardy. Calls of eagles or falcons, in combination with models or kites displaying eagle or falcon graphics (see "Scarecrows" below), may also scare geese away.
  • Flagging tape and streamers. Lengths of shiny or bright materials strung between stakes or poles or attached to trees and allowed to move in the wind create a visual distraction that geese may avoid.
  • Balloons and kites. Helium balloons with graphics of large eyes and kites shaped like eagles or other large birds of prey are perceived by geese to pose a threat and may help scare them away. Check their availability from wildlife control companies.
  • Scarecrows. Human, eagle, alligator, swan or coyote effigies may be perceived by geese to pose a threat. Human scarecrows that appear to be carrying a shotgun may increase their effectiveness. Eagle decoys that are larger than life size and coyote decoys have shown some success.
  • Flags. A fluttering flag constructed from a black plastic garbage bag and mounted on a tall pole has also been found to discourage goose use. Geese do not like to feed in areas where they sense a threat from overhead, which the fluttering flag represents to them. The dimensions of the flag should be about 0.6 metre by 1 metre. Two or three slits about one-third the length of the flag should be cut in the end of the flag, to make three or four flaps. The flag should be mounted at least 2.5 metres above the ground.
  • Motion-activated sprinklers. Geese may be disturbed by water sprays designed to activate when movement is detected by infrared sensors. The advantage of these devices is that they can operate unattended 24 hours a day and energy-efficient circuits allow several months of operation on a single battery. However, their effectiveness is limited to quite small areas.
  • Dogs trained to chase and retrieve a dummy decoy or ball projected toward or over a problem flock or herding dogs (such as border collies) can successfully scare geese away in some areas. Dogs must be kept under control at all times and no geese may be injured or killed.

Recognizing that birds may sometimes cause damage to property or pose danger to humans, section 12 of the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 gives Environment Canada the authority to offer specified alternatives to manage birds causing damage or posing danger. The management tools are described in the Migratory Birds Regulations, which provide for the times and conditions under which migratory birds "may be killed, captured or taken,” and when “nests may be damaged, destroyed, removed or disturbed." Any such activity requires a permit from Environment Canada.

7.1.3.2 Scaring Techniques Requiring a Federal Permit

  • Use of a firearm, even if only used to discharge cracker shells, screamers and bangers, requires a federal permit issued by Environment Canada. A scare permit may be granted to property managers for the purpose of scaring migratory birds causing, or likely to cause, damage to crops or other property in the area. If the intent is to kill birds using a firearm, a kill permit must be obtained (see section 7.2). Please note that many municipal bylaws prohibit the discharge of firearms.
  • Use of aircraft to harass and scare flocks of geese is usually not practical. However, if you intend to use an aircraft to scare geese, you require a federal permit issued by Environment Canada. Use of a remote-control hobby airplane or helicopter may be applicable in some situations, but use of even these small aircraft requires a permit.
  • Raptors (falcons, eagles and other birds of prey) can be used to scare geese from sites such as golf courses and city parks. Because of these birds' instinct to kill, the property owner or manager must make an application for a federal kill permit, listing the name of the falconer conducting the work.

7.1.4 Removal/Relocation

Canada Geese rounded up and loaded in a vehicl

Jack Hughes © Environment Canada 2014

As discussed above (section 4), Canada Geese assemble in large groups when they are moulting and flightless. At this time, they can be rounded up and moved to other areas that are capable of supporting the relocated flock. Relocation may also be appropriate for small numbers of breeding geese if problems are severe; however, they must not be moved to areas that do not already have a local breeding population. This technique is most appropriate for geese causing conflicts in urban areas. Ideally, geese will be moved to areas with more natural predators or where they can be hunted during the appropriate season. Relocation is a short-term solution, as geese tend to return after they regain their flight feathers or when hunting pressure displaces them from the release sites.

Relocating geese may only be carried out under authority of a permit issued by Environment Canada to a land owner or land manager. The permit request must include a description of the situation, an estimate of the number of birds involved and the names of individuals who will be performing the procedure. In addition, complete contact information and written permission from the owner of the proposed release site must be provided before a permit will be issued. Environment Canada may require evidence that the individuals have the knowledge, skills and equipment to perform the relocation without harming the geese. A detailed, comprehensive management plan may also be required that specifies the target number of geese for the area and identifies measures that will be undertaken to meet the target over the long term. There will be a requirement of permit holders to report on their control activities; non-compliance may result in future permit applications being refused. A description of Best Practices for Capturing, Transporting and Caring for Relocated Geese may be obtained upon request and will be provided automatically with an approved permit from Environment Canada.

In addition, release sites must be approved by Environment Canada in consultation with provincial wildlife biologists. Some relocated geese may be accommodated in natural settings; however, if sites must be managed for geese, costs can rise quickly. Also, few areas readily welcome relocated geese, because Canada Geese are already so widespread.

Note: Geese may quickly learn that non-lethal methods do not pose a threat to them. For non-lethal devices to be effective, they must be strategically placed in areas of high goose use and be moved and changed frequently.

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7.2 Lethal Management

If the above non-lethal control efforts prove unsuccessful and goose problems persist, lethal control may be an option. Lethal control includes legal hunting, shooting out of season, egg destruction and euthanasia. For all lethal management actions, a permit from Environment Canada is required. In addition, the applicant may be required to submit a comprehensive goose management plan indicating what the target population is (number of geese) and how the population will be managed to achieve and maintain the target population over the long term.

7.2.1 Hunting

Waterfowl hunters

Photo: © Joshua Brugmans - Hunter

In order to hunt Canada Geese, hunters must obtain a federal Migratory Game Bird Hunting Permit in addition to provincial permits that may be required. The length and timing of hunting seasons have been adjusted, and larger bag limits have been implemented in many areas to increase the harvest of temperate-breeding Canada Geese. Band recoveries from hunter-killed birds show that most banded temperate-breeding geese are shot near to where they were banded. This suggests that harvesting of geese by hunters helps limit local populations.

7.2.2 Egg Sterilization or Destruction

Because egg sterilization or destruction is considered to be a lethal technique, a permit from Environment Canada is required. Permits may be issued to property owners or managers. The written request must include a description of the situation, an estimate of the number of nests involved and the names of individuals who will be performing the procedure. There will be a requirement of permit holders to report on their control activities; non-compliance may result in future permit applications being refused.

Sterilization of Canada Goose eggs

Photo: Jean Rodrigue © Environment Canada 2010

Preventing hatching can provide short-term relief by reducing the number of geese using an area during the summer; however, for a bird as long-lived as the Canada Goose, a long-term commitment to hatch prevention is critical if population reduction is the goal. As fewer eggs hatch, birds may relocate because their breeding attempts failed, and population numbers will eventually fall as adults die naturally. Local populations can be reduced by preventing hatching because when geese become adults, they tend to nest in the area where they learned to fly. Hatch prevention works most effectively when combined with other goose management techniques.

Hatch prevention can be achieved either by destroying eggs or by sterilizing eggs. Destroying eggs is less complicated and, in most cases, just as effective. Egg sterilization is only recommended in cases where there is reason to believe that geese will re-nest if eggs are destroyed. By sterilizing the eggs and leaving them in the nest, the female goose will continue to incubate them until it is too late in the season to start a new nest.

Egg sterilization is achieved either by:

  • coating the eggs with non-toxic vegetable oil or mineral oil to block air exchange through the pores in the egg and prevent it from hatching (petroleum-based oil is not permitted) or;
  • addling, which involves vigorously shaking the egg to prevent it from hatching by disrupting the egg membranes. A more detailed description of Best Practices for Sterilizing Goose Eggs may be obtained upon request and will be provided automatically with an approved permit from Environment Canada.

7.2.3 Lethal Removal of Geese

Environment Canada will consider kill permit requests from property owners or managers; however, applicants wishing to obtain a kill permit must demonstrate that all other reasonable management options have been attempted and that the problem persists. The applicant may be required to submit a comprehensive goose management plan indicating what the target population is (number of geese) and how the population will be managed after the kill. In some situations, public consultations may be required, to ensure that there is adequate public support for the proposed plan. It is the applicant’s responsibility to make necessary arrangements for the humane destruction of the geese and their disposal. There will be a requirement of permit holders to report on their control activities; non-compliance may result in future permit applications being refused. A more detailed description of Best Practices for Lethal Removal of Canada Geese may be obtained upon request and will be provided automatically with an approved permit from Environment Canada.

Permit Requirements:

It is important to note that possession of a permit issued by Environment Canada does not exempt permit holders from other federal, provincial or municipal laws and regulations. It is up to the person undertaking goose management actions to be aware of and comply with all appropriate laws and regulations.

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