What’s Good for the Goose 

Metro turns to federal officials for bird control

Metro turns to federal officials for bird control

Forget about our state’s third-world budget imbroglio—we have a far messier crisis looming. Left unchecked, it may prompt the degradation of our city’s finest parks, lakes, and golf courses. It might even threaten those seemingly impenetrable gated subdivisions named after the species of animals dislodged by their hasty construction.

We have too many Canada geese in Nashville. And that’s of concern not just to prickly suburbanites, but also to city, state, and even federal officials.

“We have seen more geese this year than in years past,” says Tommy Lynch, an assistant director for Metro Parks. “It just seems to me that there are more than normal.”

In June, parks officials enlisted the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to shoo away geese at the Ted Rhodes Golf Course near MetroCenter. Believe it or not, if you need goose work done, you can’t just do it yourself; you typically have to call in the USDA, which in turn sends trained public servants to repel the birds with noisemakers. Sometimes, they just kill the geese—a practice they refer to as “lethal control”—but here they were able to strongly encourage the birds to seek refuge elsewhere.

Lynch says he fielded many complaints about the more than 100 geese who flocked at Ted Rhodes. They are, he says, more than just an annoyance. The black-headed birds can damage a golf course. “What they do is they eat grasses and seeds,” he says. “And when you get that many of them you get an awful lot of droppings.”

Earlier this spring, parks officials sought USDA aid to run off geese from Centennial Park, and they may ask for help tending to the feathered population at Two Rivers Park and other public spaces.

“Based on the number of complaints we received about the geese, this was something that was worthwhile,” Lynch says of enlisting the help of the federal agency. “It took care of the problem in a humane fashion.”

David Feld, president of GeesePeace, a Virginia-based animal welfare group, says that there are a number of subtle, complicated factors as to why people’s affinity for geese can recede over time. “It’s mainly the aesthetic aspects of it, you know, the poop,” he says. “The problems that people have with Canada geese are very severe. They eat the grass; they destroy lawns. They poop a pound a day. That’s significant.”

Brett Dunlap, the state director for the Tennessee and Kentucky division of USDA’s Wildlife Services, says that his office receives up to 20 calls a day about the proliferation of area geese. Some come from golf course managers, others from angry homeowners’ associations. “It’s been a busy summer,” he says. “The Canada geese population is doing rather well.”

Dunlap says that while most of the complaints deal with goose droppings, he also gets his share of attack stories. “It’s not uncommon, especially during the nesting period each spring, where the adult geese will come after people and chase them and bite them,” he says. “The goose can hit them and knock them down. It can be new to people to see this bird coming at them, hissing and flapping its wings.”

Oddly, suburbanites and the surly Canada geese share common aesthetics. Both love man-made lakes and fountains, and both have an almost congenital appreciation for finely manicured yards. “Geese like what people like, short grass lawns,” says Ed Warr, a Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency biologist. “And if you have a lakeside property and you mow it down to the shoreline, you’re going to have geese come to your property. It emulates the tundra-like environment they evolved in.”

The USDA will offer free advice to neighborhoods dealing with geese overpopulation.

But if you want them actually to remove the white-bellied birds, the typical job costs about $1,000. And the agency can offer no guarantees that the geese won’t return in just a few months.

Groups such as GeesePeace urge a more comprehensive approach to the proliferation of our feathered friends. For example, GeesePeace trains volunteers to locate nests and soak eggs in corn oil, which is harder than it sounds. Volunteers must work in pairs. One person must carefully lure the mother goose away from the nest, while the other places oil on the egg, effectively sealing the egg’s pores and aborting development.

But first the partner has to see if the eggs will sink in a bucket of water. The ones that float can’t be killed—they are too far along in the developmental process. GeesePeace, which apparently opposes late-term abortions, discourages volunteers from killing eggs that are ready to hatch.

“We only oil eggs in the early stages of development,” Feld says.

After volunteers do their best to curtail population growth, GeesePeace staffers commence a two-week harassment period, typically during the late spring and early summer months when the birds lose their feathers and can’t fly. During this period, the group provides trained border collies to scare off geese from lakes and fountains. GeesePeace staffers even will take border collies with them on kayaks and have the dogs herd the geese away from the water.

“The technique we use is 100 percent effective, humane, and economical,” Feld says.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) officials don’t have a problem with harassing geese; they just don’t like them being killed. And while the USDA insists that the majority of their goose work is relatively harmless, they do practice lethal control—although apparently not in Tennessee—when there is no other place for the geese to relocate. PETA is strongly opposed to such strong-arm tactics and urges nonviolent methods.

In fact, Stephanie Boyles, a PETA wildlife biologist, says that the USDA often kills geese right in front of their family members—an especially traumatic event, she notes, considering that these birds mate for life. “During these roundups, they rip families apart. That’s terribly cruel. Geese are very devoted to each other.”

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