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May 21, 2013 > What's up with all the geese?

What's up with all the geese?

By Julie Gesin

There's loud honking above as flocks of Canada geese fly above Tri-City neighborhoods. Masses of large, long-necked fliers graze on turf by local lakes, playgrounds and schools. Though they look the same, there's a distinction between two types of Canada geese: migratory and resident. Their behavior and the effect they have on environment differ due to human intervention.

Canada geese came close to extinction due to hunting, until the species became protected by Federal Government about fifty years ago. Wild or migratory geese exist all over North America, and journey south for the winter. Their distinctive honking is echolocation, a way these birds measure their altitude. Lake Elizabeth in Fremont happens to be in their migratory path and is visited by about 1,000 birds annually. Resident geese are descendents of migratory geese that were domesticated and used as decoys by hunters. Though they are good fliers; they don't stray far from their birthplace.

Geese cannot fly during molting season and flock to bodies of water for safety from predators. Lake Elizabeth, as well as the surrounding cities with their lakes, canals and abundance of turf provide for attractive habitat for Canada Geese. However, according to Ranger Susan Hall of Lake Elizabeth Visitor Center, turf is junk food for the geese, which graze on nutritionally inferior decorative grass rather than their regular diet of wild vegetation, aquatic plants and insects.

"It's hard to understand the difference between the migratory and resident birds," states Ranger Hall. The migratory birds do not cause a problem since they are only temporary visitors and do not lay eggs in the area. It's the resident geese that crowd the area year round, producing up to a pound of feces per bird daily and devouring the turf down to the soil. Overpopulation of birds can cause health risks, such as avian cholera, for example, and spread via migratory birds to other regions.

William Cann Memorial Civic Center in Union City and Quarry Lakes, contracts "Goose Busters," a service that uses dogs to round up and chase the birds off of lawns to give turf a break. The birds usually return, but these short interruptions allow the areas to recover from grazing.

In some cities, the birds used to be rounded up and even killed to control population. Fifteen years ago, Central Park's Supervising Park Ranger Judy Felber devised a more humane method of controlling the goose population that is practiced today; the City of Fremont became the first public agency to do that. Every spring, Ranger Hall takes a boat to an island where the resident geese nest, laying about five eggs per clutch. and oils the eggs. "Taking away the eggs does not work," explains Hall. If eggs are removed, the birds will simply lay more, whereas oiled eggs are unable to breathe, and thus no longer viable, while the birds remain on the nest.

It may be due to this practice that the resident geese, unlike their migratory cousins who mate for life, have been known to leave their mates, possibly looking for a more fruitful candidate.

Today, with effective methods of controlling the population, even the resident geese do not pose a threat to the environment, aside from the occasionally messy lawns. Nor are they in any danger of extinction. The migratory geese pass though our neighborhoods in spring and fall, following a course they have known for centuries, while the resident geese have become permanent neighbors.

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