Almost every weekday, I drive past the University at Buffalo’s North Campus. Set along Ellicott Creek and boasting “abundant green spaces” (read: lawns) UB’s campus is a perfect place to pass the time if you happen to be a Canada Goose. No matter the season, flocks of these husky brown birds graze their way across the soccer field, as efficient at keeping the turf low as any gas-powered mower. As part of New York’s resident population, these geese stay year-round rather than migrate south each autumn. Our culture’s obsession with short, neat, green grass allows for this, as humans have created and maintain abundant Canada Goose habitat. Natural predators of these birds have been discouraged or intentional removed. With abundant green spaces that are also safe, it is no surprise that the population of Canada Geese is high. Higher than it “should be”.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation describes the resident, non-migrating Canada Geese as a nuisance. The Department says, “Canada geese are a valuable natural resource that provides recreation and enjoyment to bird watchers, hunters, and the general public throughout New York State. But in recent years, flocks of local-nesting or “resident” geese have become year-round inhabitants of our parks, waterways, residential areas, and golf courses. Too often, they cause significant problems. In urban and suburban areas throughout New York State, expanses of short grass, abundant lakes and ponds, lack of natural predators, limited hunting, and supplemental feeding have created an explosion in resident goose numbers. While most people find a few geese acceptable, problems develop as local flocks grow.”
I find the last sentence in this statement incredibly strange coming from a department with the mission of environmental conservation. There is then a list of the problems that Nuisance Canada Geese cause.
The webpage goes on to say, “Based on the growing frequency and severity of complaints about geese, DEC biologists have concluded that a more acceptable number of resident geese in New York would be at or below 85,000 birds. This is far fewer than the current population estimate of more than 200,000 birds. However, this is a long-term statewide population goal. It guides our management programs and policies, including establishing hunting seasons and bag limits and allowing additional take of geese by permit.”
Coming to this page as an ecologist, I have a hard time understanding why the number of complaints is relevant for management of a native bird species. I have stepped on plenty of Canada Goose scat, been hissed at while walking and while bicycling, and had to wait in my car while a goose loitered in the lane and scolding nearby vehicles with loud honks. These interactions might not sound positive, but as a city-suburb dweller, I feel grateful for any interaction with non-human beings.
Canada Geese are abundant. Their numbers paired with their aggressive behavior do affect other marsh birds. I cannot make a case that no management is called for. Thoughtful management can be essential in spaces that other marsh birds depend on for nesting. But I will make the case that a shift in perspective is called for too. If we can learn to appreciate these geese, maybe we will something from them. Maybe the conclusion we should be reaching is not that there are too many geese but that there are too many lawns, too few protected marshlands, too much dependence on having unimpeded roads for getting from one place to another very fast.
Last year, I slowed down and took a very long time to knit a hat for a friend of mine who particularly appreciates Canada Geese. I am grateful that he shared his appreciation with me during a walk around an urban pond, encouraging me to reconsider my bias and giving me the inspiration for this hat.
Completed March 1, 2020
Jamieson and Smith Shetland 2-ply, undyed.
This is the second geese-inspired hat that I have made as a gift. The first was for Snow Geese and I wrote about it here.