Urban Canada Geese in Missouri

By Wendy Sangster and Tom Meister | February 2, 2004
From Missouri Conservationist: Feb 2004

The phone was ringing when I got to my desk this morning. "Good morning, Missouri Department of Conservation," I said into the receiver. "Can I help you?" "Yes!" replied an excited voice."We have a huge goose at our back door that will not allow the children to go outside to the playground for recess."

The phone rings again."Help! A Canada goose is keeping customers from coming into our store. They can't even get out of their cars."

The next caller reported gobs of goose droppings all over their golf course. "We can't walk without stepping in it," the caller said.

Conservation offices get plenty of phone calls about conflicts with urban Canada geese. The big birds have become so common that they are regarded as nuisances in some quarters. Yet, not very long ago it was rare to see a Canada goose on a neighborhood pond.

Giant Canada geese, one of five goose species in Missouri, were nearly wiped out by market hunting. The species also suffered greatly from the destruction of wetland habitat. By the early 1930s, they were thought to be extinct. However, it appears that the cliffs along the lower Missouri River were continuously populated by small numbers of nesting giant Canada geese.

In 1949, attempts began in Missouri to restore the species to its native range and to provide public viewing and hunting opportunities. Specifically, the goal of this effort was to restore nesting Canada geese to at least 75 of the 114 counties in Missouri. This goal was exceeded by 1991. By 1999 the population was 42 percent above targeted numbers.

Conservative estimates reveal that the giant Canada goose population in the Mississippi Flyway has grown from about 800,000 in 1993 to 1.5 million in 2002. Estimates for the same 10-year period in Missouri show a population increase from about 30,000 to 64,000. Missouri's highest densities of geese are in urban areas.

Managing giant Canada geese in Missouri is complicated by the fact that four other populations of geese are also present in the state at various times. The Tallgrass Prairie, Mississippi Valley and Eastern Prairie populations migrate through Missouri at certain times of the year, but they nest elsewhere.

On the other hand, thousands of giant Canada geese nest in Missouri and are in the state year-round. Because survival, reproduction and harvest rates are different for each of these populations, the status and dynamics of all goose populations present in Missouri must be considered when managing any one of them.

For example, giant Canada geese have many advantages over members of the other populations. Their longevity, consistent productivity, high survival and affinity for urban landscapes all contribute to sustained population growth. Meanwhile, other populations face obstacles such as short breeding seasons in unpredictable climates. The statewide goose harvest in Missouri reflects these differences, with the proportion of giant Canada geese steadily increasing over the past 30 years.

In the past, the Missouri Canada goose harvest was driven primarily by the availability of northern nesting migrant populations. Currently, giant Canada geese account for about three-fourths of the total goose harvest.

The recovery of the giant Canada goose has been so successful that many now view the birds as a nuisance. This is especially true in urban areas, where geese are blamed for creating airport and traffic hazards, digging into corporate and residential lawns, and damaging pond banks and stream banks. Where they are numerous, geese leave excessive droppings that foul areas and contribute to water pollution. During their nesting season, geese may also attack people.

Over the last eight years, the Conservation Department has implemented an integrated approach to managing Canada geese in Missouri. This effort began in 1996 when we formed an Urban Goose Task Force. The mission of this group is to organize a communication and coordination system for urban goose issues, to identify alternative measures for controlling urban goose flocks, and then to recommend a process for implementing the program. At the same time, the group wants to maintain the public's appreciation for native wildlife.

In addition to making general recommendations, the Urban Goose Task Force also provides detailed outlines on how to promote public awareness of urban goose issues and how to involve citizens in resolving urban goose issues. The group also established a protocol for responding to goose problems in urban Missouri.

In 1998, the Nuisance Urban Goose Implementation Team (NUGIT) was formed to implement the recommendations of the task force. Because hunting is usually not allowed in urban areas where geese often overpopulate, NUGIT requested authorization from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to streamline the permitting process for Missouri residents to use egg oiling and roundup and removal to control giant Canada geese numbers. The state received this authorization in the summer of 2000.

Before exercising the authority provided by the USFWS permit, NUGIT conducted training sessions throughout the state. These sessions informed staff about Conservation Department guidelines for urban Canada goose management and the new permit process. NUGIT also initiated print articles, press releases, radio and television releases and two new publications on how to deal with urban goose conflicts in Missouri.

Probably the most important part of the approach taken by Missouri is its insistence on using multiple methods before resorting to the more extreme measure of roundup and removal. Roundup and removal are effective only after a large number of geese are already established in an area. This happens quickly without harassment, alteration of the habitat or other control measures. Because they are required to use other methods before receiving a permit for roundup and removal, communities are compelled to try techniques that often make roundup and removal unnecessary.

Cooperation among agencies, communities, and interest groups is critical to goose management. Missouri has been successful in dealing with Canada geese because various groups have come together to tackle the problems.

For example, the expansion of egg and nest destruction in Missouri was facilitated by cooperation among the Conservation Department, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, GeesePeace, nuisance wildlife control operators and property owners. No two situations are the same, and no single method will resolve all goose/human conflicts. However, it's a good sign for goose management, and for conservation in general, that people who don't always agree were able to come together and seek a positive solution. triangle


Visit your local Conservation Department office for additional information on urban geese management, or visit our website at missouriconservation.org.

A new publication,"Controlling Conflicts with Urban Canada Geese in Missouri," describes common strategies for solving goose problems, lists suppliers of control products, and provides a template for developing a tailored management plan. For a free copy,write to Publications, P.O.Box 180, Jefferson City,MO 65102-0180, or email publications.staff@mdc.mo.gov.

"Living with Canada Geese" workshops

Missourians can learn how to avoid and reduce conflicts with giant Canada geese at workshops in the St. Louis area in February.

In cooperation with the Missouri Department of Conservation, GeesePeace of St.Louis, a non-profit group that promotes non-lethal solutions to nuisance goose problems, is offering six workshops in 2004.

Participants will learn population stabilization techniques.The workshops also include information about the use of landscaping, trained dogs, chemical repellents and no-feeding policies as part of an integrated goose management plan.

The workshops will be in Ballwin at the Wildlife Rescue Center (Feb. 4, 11 and 29), St. Louis City at the Humane Society (Feb. 18), Florissant at Florissant Valley Country Club (Feb. 22), and Kirkwood at the Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center (Feb. 26).

For more information about the workshops, write GeesePeace of St. Louis, P.O.Box 38846, St. Louis, 63138, call (314) 567-2081 or email <info@geesepeacestlouis.org>. The group has a website.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Bryan Hendricks
Art Director - Ara Clark
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Circulation - Laura Scheuler