Any one who's taken a stroll through an open park or played a round of golf on a course in Mississippi has, more than likely, come across the "gifts" left behind by Canada geese. Needless to say, if you have one Canada goose, you've got a dozen or more waddling about, each leaving their own deposit (one goose can leave up to a kilogram of droppings each day).
Up North, the birds are a seasonal nuisance. Down here, the majority of Canada geese are permanent residents and they find our parks, golf courses and lawns great places to spend their time and raise their kids, especially if it's near a body of fresh water.
Canada geese are the most common water bird in North America (hard to believe that 100 years ago they were on the brink of extinction due to over-hunting). They have a large wing span. Spread your arms sideways. That's how wide their wings are.
And they're fast fliers, averaging 30 mph in normal flight and 40 mph when migrating. If they're in a really big hurry, they can reach 60 mph. They fly in that well-known V pattern and can cover 600 miles a day, flying day and night. Migrating geese use the same route every year, with the younger geese learning the route from their parents. The following spring, they will return to the same spot where they were born.
Adults can live 24 years
Canada geese are vegetarians. They eat berries, cat tails, clover, pond weeds and grasses, including your lawn. In the fall, they will invade corn fields to eat the kernels that fell during harvest. Our local geese are already looking for nesting sites. Their nests are built on the ground generally near water. An average clutch of five eggs will be laid with the goslings beginning to hatch in April, continuing into May.
Geese molt their flight feathers in late June and early July, and it takes about a month for them to grow back. It's during the molting period when Canada geese cause the most consternation among property owners. Their inability to fly restricts their foraging to a small area, and they can cause significant damage to lawns and other vegetation during that period.
Adult birds are large and aggressive. They don't have too many natural enemies. If a bird survives to adulthood, it can live up to 24 years. Most of the mortality occurs when they are eggs and goslings. Raccoons, possums, skunks and other animals will feed on the eggs, and the young birds are attacked by alligators, coyotes, foxes, hawks, owls and snapping turtles.
No. 1, don't feed them
If you have a resident population of Canada geese, you can do a few thing to reduce their numbers. First and foremost, do not feed them. You may think it's cute to toss out some corn or bread, but all you're doing is persuading the geese that they've found Utopia and they -- and their close friends and relatives -- are going to move in to take advantage of your generosity.
If you haven't got one, get a dog. Border collies are especially good at goose harassment. They will spend an entire day constantly herding the geese. After a while, the geese will grow tired of the harassment and will fly off to seek a quieter place to live.
A silhouette of a coyote or fox may act as a deterrent. It will need to be moved periodically. Canada geese are smart birds and will notice that something's wrong if the coyote doesn't move every once and a while.
Noise is another good way to startle the birds into moving on. You'll need to talk to your neighbors about noisemakers before you try them.
Finally, you can use more lethal methods. For these, you're going to need permission from the state. Applications for permits can be filled out online at fws.gov/forms/3-200-13.pdf. These are called depredation permits.
Hunting is considered the most effective way to reduce the numbers of Canada geese. With the permit in hand, you can begin culling the flock in September. You'll also need the permit to addle their eggs. Addling means shaking the eggs vigorously for at least a minute. You can also prick a small hole at the large end of each egg.
Another method is to remove the goose eggs and replace them with hard-boiled eggs. If you destroy or remove the first clutch, the female may lay a second one. By substituting the eggs with hard-boiled eggs, you can fool her into remaining on the nest. Any of these methods will need to be continued for more than one season as long as the habitat remains attractive to the geese.
Tim Lockley, a specialist in entomology, is retired from a 30-year career as a research scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For answers to individual questions, please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Tim Lockley, c/o Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535.