Canada Goose Population Control: Homeowner Associations Become Experts—Long Version

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Local Canada geese

Spring is a good time to consider the giant Canada goose and methods of population control that are legal and humane. March is breeding time. Male and female breeding pairs separate from the flock and become very protective of their chosen nesting spot. Each nest will hold, on average, six eggs (between five and ten). Juvenile geese (one- and two-year-olds) are not old enough to breed and will remain in small groups.

During the nesting season (March – May), the mother goose incubates her clutch of eggs, remaining on the nest for the entire six weeks. During this time she does not eat. The gander is keeping a close eye on the nest—he is the guard, the defender, the lookout, and will attack if he feels his family is threatened.

Canada geese (Branta canadensis maxima), like all waterfowl, are protected at the federal level by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. At the state level, Canada geese are also protected by the Illinois Wildlife Code. It is illegal to kill or remove geese, or to destroy, move, or disturb their active nests, eggs, or young, unless you register with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).

Arguably the least humane method of population control is to contract for a legal slaughter through the USDA. Slaughters are expensive and public goodwill is lost. Slaughters are a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

The Humane Society of the United States (and others) believe that the best method of preventing the goose population from increasing includes two parts: egg depredation and habitat modification—making the area less attractive for “gosling raising” (habitat modification).

Egg depredation is the most effective way to keep a population steady or growing as little as possible. To be legal, practitioners must register with the state, do oiling in a specific way, record, and report.

Local egg oiling team in action. Oiling eggs prevents them from hatching; home-made shields provide a barrier to protect geese and humans

Oiling the eggs at the earliest stage prevents the development of the embryo. Oiling eggs at the earliest stage prevents the development of the embryo. Leaving the oiled eggs in the nest convinces the parents that their nest is fine until it is too late to lay another clutch. 28 days later, the unhatched eggs must be removed—this releases the female from sitting on the nest, so that she does not starve to death waiting for the eggs to hatch. Many people are tempted to forgo the prescribed method and just take the eggs out of the nest. This will trigger the geese to lay a new clutch, so is ineffective as well as illegal.

Egg depredation is a multi-step process, and timing is very important. Generally, the nesting season begins the last weekend of March and finishes the first week of May. Egg-oiling teams go out weekly during that six-week period. Again, people need to have permits in order to do this legally. Around Champaign-Urbana, Maynard Lake and Sawgrass Homeowner Associations (HOAs) have had successful egg depredation programs in place for years with great success. Since 2021, the local non-profit Friends of Geese has helped six other HOAs to develop effective programs and become self-sufficient. Every spring, Friends of Geese trains people with the steps and tools, and perhaps more importantly helps neighbors learn to work together. The training includes registering for a Federal Depredation Permit through the IDNR. These population control protocols are promoted by the Humane Society of the United States and GeesePeace in St. Louis.

Shields and their makers

Discouraging future nesting through habitat modification could be effective because Canada geese return to where they were hatched. Unfortunately, when the natural environment is changed to suit humans, the result is also the ideal gosling nursery— “build it and they will come.” It is our fault that the goose population explodes. Humans like to have short grasses—a mowed, fertilized lawn is a goose’s favorite buffet table. People like to have a house on the lake—geese most often nest in places that have water nearby. People like to have gentle slopes along the waterfront—these create ideal Canada goose nesting areas because geese prefer easy landing sites, large open areas with a 360-degree view of potential predators; and the gentle inclines are perfect for the goslings to walk in and out of the water.

Human activity also reduces the number of coyotes, raccoons, possums, snakes, and other creatures that eat eggs and small goslings. The changes that humans make are a significant reason that the goose population grows so fast. We build the ideal nursery and they come.

Alternatively, tall trees make it harder for geese to land. Native grasses that are not mowed discourage nesting because the geese think that predators might be hiding there. Adding rocks around the edge of the water or steep dropoffs suggest to the geese that this is not the best place to raise their family.

Some advocate other tactics, like harassing geese. We have all seen people do some of the most ridiculous things, including employing brutality. In general, I believe that these people fail to recognize that their lone efforts are ineffective, often illegal, can cause trauma such as blindness, and can be dangerous to their human neighbors as well as the geese.

Returning to the topic of roundup and slaughter of geese as a method of population control, a slaughter requires a permit from the IDNR and then hiring the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Division to come and kill a certain number of geese. Roundups occur during the birds’ annual molt when the adult geese and the goslings cannot fly, from mid-June through July.

The roundup is a slaughter—it is a misnomer to call it a culling. Culling implies that the weakest animals are selected; a slaughter is indiscriminate. Geese mate for life, and experience trauma when members of their families are destroyed.

In a roundup and slaughter, geese and goslings are herded into a pen and packed onto a truck. Typically, the truck is set up with small chambers where crates of geese are gassed with carbon dioxide. This is a painful way to die. In other cases, the live geese are trucked to a slaughterhouse. The meat cannot be sold, though it may be given away for free. However, goose meat is often contaminated with lead, pesticides, and other toxins.

For instance, when Canada geese in Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in New York were rounded up and taken to a slaughterhouse, the meat had to be clearly labeled that “the Department of Health recommends no more than two meals of the wild geese per month because they may have been exposed to environmental contaminants.”

In 2020, the Urbana Park District (UPD) originally planned to kill 80 geese at the cost of $4–6000, but ended up slaughtering 175. UPD claimed it was a “charity harvest”—that the meat would go to “feed the hungry.” Local food banks do not accept donations of goose meat. After more phone calls, it was determined that no food bank in Illinois received this harvest. In fact, no food bank is set up to receive a huge supply of frozen ground goose meat—even a small slaughter of 25 birds would be 225 pounds of meat.

Preventing the goose population from increasing is arguably the most humane method of population control, is inexpensive if neighborhoods do the work, and is extremely effective long-term. However, it does take work every year in the spring, requires teamwork, builds community, is a way to work with nature and of learning about goose behavior and healthy ecosystems.

Friends of Geese trains people at no charge, though a financial donation is expected. The ideal is that a homeowner association or a group of neighbors will be trained and supported, and then become self-sufficient in egg oiling year after year. It is fun to do—we have learned a lot about geese. It takes work. It takes teamwork.

In summary, Friends of Geese provides a model program for the humane and effective management of urban Canada geese. Their goal is to educate the public about the non-lethal geese population control protocol promoted by the Humane Society of the United States and GeesePeace in St. Louis. Their goal is to encourage HOA’s to be self-sufficient. Egg oiling is a way of building community, working with nature, and learning about goose behavior and healthy ecosystems.

Karen Medina grew up in Champaign, served in the Peace Corps, has degrees in Animal Science and Library and Information Science, and is a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Viktoria Ford is an artist and co-founder of Friends of Geese.

Penny Hanna is a retired teacher and life-long activist.

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