MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

June 21, 2013

Canada geese flocks may hint at need for relocation

By John Kilgore
Phoenix Outdoors Columnist

— If your pond is experiencing an overpopulation of geese, the time of the year for relocating the birds is at hand.

According to the ODWC, a population of large-bodied Canada geese existed historically throughout Oklahoma and much of the U.S.  During the era of settlement and market hunting, these birds pretty well disappeared.  A few small flocks were found in the mid 1960s and restoration efforts were undertaken in many states.  

Oklahoma began reintroducing Canada geese in the 1980s, using trap-and-transplant birds from other states, collecting and hatching eggs, and maintaining a captive flock to hatch and raise goslings. Since their reintroduction, Canada geese have been on a fairly steady increase — one study showing an average increase of 17.5 percent per year. The same study estimated that our state would have 32,500 pairs by 2010.  

Most of the resident Canada geese in Oklahoma are associated with urban or developed areas, primarily because nesting geese prefer areas where water bodies are bordered by short, open vegetation, which most parks and association ponds provide.  

Recently, I spoke with Josh Richardson, Migratory Game Bird Biologist with the ODWC, and he gave some insight on geese and some relocation advice.

“ODWC doesn’t directly conduct any programs to address nuisance complaints regarding Canada geese.  We provide information and technical assistance to landowners to help them deal with their specific problem,” said Richardson. “We have worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make it as easy for people to respond to nuisance problems and support their program to provide an online process to permit landowners or managers to remove goose nests or eggs from their property.

Richardson says ODWC provides training to certify Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators (NWCOs) to conduct goose management activities, including nest and egg work as well as relocations. “We are as liberal with our hunting seasons as is allowed by federal regulations (even though these birds are present year around they are in the same species as migrating Canada geese and the regulatory responsibility falls to the USFWS),” he said. “We have a 10-day season in mid-September to increase the harvest pressure on resident birds.”

This season has a higher daily bag limit than the regular goose season, Richardson adds, noting it runs from the first part of November to mid-February.

Here is some of the advice the ODWC gives to most people:

• Don’t feed the birds, even if there is only a pair or two at the lake you are visiting or live by, and they look so pretty and act like they are so hungry.  It is generally unhealthy for the birds.  They become more accustomed to humans and more aggressive.  Other birds begin showing up (either chicks that grew up there or just other birds that follow them in).  They associate that location with easy food, and when the scales tip and people decide there are too many birds, it is difficult to get them to disperse.

• Work on reducing nesting attempts or hatching rates.  It is easiest to keep numbers in check when there aren’t new birds hatching and growing up.  This is done either removing nests and/or eggs or addling eggs (a process of sterilizing the egg while leaving it intact, a method that is actually recognized by the Humane Society, which has a handbook for homeowners on it).

• Alter the landscape to make it less attractive to geese.  This can be done a number of ways. Short fences, 18-24 inches tall, set a few feet back from the edge of the water can often keep geese from getting further up into a yard or park.  Letting taller grasses (reaching heights of 2-4 feet) grow up around the edge of the water.  This keeps the birds from seeing past the shoreline and often will keep the birds from getting out there for fear of predators that could ambush them.  Create steeper bank lines.  Canada geese prefer to wade up from the water. Shorelines with steep or cut banks force birds to jump or fly up to get out and feed, which is more work for the bird and also a potential area of ambush in their minds.

• Harass birds early and often.  The longer birds get accustomed to a location the more difficult it is to get them to leave.  Also, don’t go out and harass them one day because you feel you have the time to spare, leave the birds alone for a few days, then make it out again to harass them and think that you’ll have good results.  Harassment should be consistent and thorough.  If started early, it may take a few days, but birds will most often leave in search of more peaceful locations.   If you let them get settled or don’t keep the pressure up, it could take more than a week to get birds to leave.  

During this molting time of year,  the opportunity exists to thin your gaggle of geese but you must have a certified Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator transport the geese to a new location. To reduce the population at your watering hole, the geese must be taken over 150 miles  — or they’ll be back.

John Kilgore’s outdoor column runs Fridays in the Phoenix. You may contact him with news or other information at (918) 348-9431 or at jkilgoreoutdoors@yahoo.com.