Keeping Canada geese in check
CHICAGO—From across the pond in Mount Prospect, Ill., Bob Jost uses binoculars to count the geese, then carefully pencils in the totals on a clipboard — 19, made up of three families.
“You get to know them,” says Jost as his dog Holly snoozes in the back of his pickup. “Eventually they’re going to come out on the sidewalk.”
Which is when the professional goose chaser will wake up Holly and use noisemakers and other tricks of the trade — some of them secret — to teach the Canada geese that it’s time to move on.
After years of steady growth, the population of giant Canada geese in Illinois has remained flat at around 107,000 birds over the last decade, according to an annual helicopter survey by the state Department of Natural Resources.
Chicago-area residents used to flood U.S. Fish and Wildlife offices with complaints about aggressive birds or annoying droppings during late spring and early summer — the 25- to 30-day nesting period. But this year the phones have been mostly quiet, officials say.
The reasons include outreach education programs, a near doubling in the number of permits granted to remove eggs and nests, and a helpful coyote population. All have contributed to controlling a goose population that once seemed uncontrollable, officials say.
“A lot of people say I’ve never heard of a service like mine,” said Jost, a lifelong goose hunter who opened Northshore Goose Control three years ago. “It’s definitely a different trade, not the normal landscaper, mechanic, office person — but I’m able to pay my bills.”
In the early 1960s, the giant Canada goose did not nest in Illinois, and some wildlife experts worried that the bird was becoming extinct. State conservationists launched restoration efforts to bring the geese back to rural parts of western Illinois in the late 1960s and early 1970s, said Roy Domazlicky, urban waterfowl project manager for the Department of Natural Resources.
By the 1980s, the geese were ready to check out city life.
“Nobody knew they were going to be as adaptable as they were,” Domazlicky said. “We never put them in the urban areas. They really just kind of found their way there.”
The geese mate for life and were drawn to the area by parks, golf courses and landscaped office complexes. But the geese, who love to eat lush green grass and use nearby water for protection, quickly turned off some residents with another habit.
“It’s two chews and a poop, that’s just what they do,” said Jost, who visits 23 golf courses, park districts and office complexes each day to monitor and, if need be, “haze” or intimidate geese.
For years, private residents, park district superintendents and business owners were unclear on what they could do to control the birds, which are protected by both state and federal laws.
But by 2006, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service turned authority over to the state to issue permits to “addle” eggs (prevent them from hatching), the public seemed more educated, said Shawn Cirton, wildlife biologist in the Chicago field office. Addling techniques include shaking or burying the eggs.
Cirton said brochures and other outreach aimed at educating the public have helped.
For its part, the state three years ago created a website (web.extension.illinois.edu/wildlife) to provide detailed advice on how to handle issues with all wildlife, including Canada geese.
The number of permits issued to dispose of eggs rose from 274 in 2003 to about 500 annually over the last 10 years; homeowners associations and corporate campuses are the bulk of the applicants, Domazlicky said.
A permit to addle goose eggs is granted when an applicant can prove geese are damaging property or are a threat to human safety.
“Over time, I think people have adapted to the goose invasion,” Domazlicky said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t still uses and conflicts.”
At Naperbrook Golf Course in Naperville, Ill., the superintendent, Kevin Carlson, scatters life-size wooden cut-outs of black dogs throughout the property to scare away geese during the off-season.
During the summer, he allows pond bank grasses to grow higher to deter geese from congregating. And he subscribes to several trade magazines to learn about the latest tools to keep them away. Golf course officials are now considering a solar-powered laser pointer designed to frighten geese, he said.
In the meantime, Carlson is resigned to mowing lawns on Monday knowing they’ll need another mow — this time to collect droppings — by Tuesday.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to see a time when we can see no geese out there, but I think we’ve reached some kind of a happy medium,” he said.
Susan Hagberg, owner of Wild Goose Chase in La Grange, Ill., said that while her company does its share of ridding areas of geese, she and her employees also have made a growing number of rooftop rescues. Attracted by the height, or, in many cases, by green roofs with vegetation, some geese build nests there not realizing the goslings will be stuck.
“If you don’t rescue them, they can die,” said Hagberg. “Even if you don’t like them, you don’t want dead little ones.”
Jost has trained Holly and another border collie, Cassie, to approach geese aggressively or slowly and menacingly.
After enough of this hazing, the geese recognize the dogs as predators and conclude the area isn’t safe for nesting.
Jost, who worked as a mechanic for 35 years, never imagined he’d someday make a living chasing birds.
“You try to get in the goose’s head,” he said.
Having goose problems? According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, there are several ways to deter geese from invading your property without acquiring a permit.
—Landscaping ponds: When building a pond, make sure there is an 18 to 24 inch vertical bank, which would be harder for young geese to negotiate. It can help deter them from using the site. If the pond is already built and has a shallow slope, plant trees and shrubs around it. Try planting taller grass species and limit mowing to once or twice a year adjacent to the shoreline. Allow ponds to freeze in the winter.
—Fencing: Three-foot high poultry wire fences will help keep birds out of gardens or yards, especially during summer. Use 20-pound or heavier monofilament fishing line to make a 3-strand fence. The first line should be six inches above ground; the second 12 inches; the third 18 inches. The monofilament fence is most effective if it’s in place before geese start to use the area for nesting, usually in early March. Make sure the fence remains tight.
—Behavior: Don’t feed geese or ducks. That can attract more birds than would naturally be found at a site — and the easy meals keep them from migrating as soon as they normally would.
©2012 the Chicago Tribune
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