The Canada goose (Branta canadensis) is common throughout Missouri, including in urban and suburban areas. Most Canada geese migrate to and from Missouri annually, but some are year-round residents. Nesting Canada geese can be aggressive, and when concentrated in large numbers, their feeding habits and droppings can result in nuisance and damage.
The following recommendations will help municipal authorities address, prevent, and resolve goose problems in urban areas. Most of these strategies are also suitable for use by individual private landowners.
The Wildlife Code of Missouri classifies the Canada goose as a game bird that may be taken during the prescribed hunting season. See current regulations for details. Because Canada geese are migratory birds, they are subject to federal as well as state regulations. Consequently, you must obtain special permission from the Department before taking any lethal control action. Contact your local county conservation agent or nearest Department office. Special permission is not needed for non-lethal methods that do not physically harm the birds, their nests, or eggs.
To effectively control goose nuisance and damage, seek the guidance of a Department wildlife biologist to employ as many strategies as possible:
Exclusion methods prevent Canada geese from entering a specific area. Some methods are inexpensive and simple, while others are more complex and costly. Exclusion can be very effective, especially when used in conjunction with other management tools.
Overhead grid systems
A grid system above the water’s surface is a very effective exclusion method. Grids work on a simple principle: Canada geese are large and require a long glide-slope to land, and a grid system denies them that.
Grids work best on bodies of water less than 150 feet across, but can be used on bodies up to 300 feet across. Use nearly any type of cordage to construct the grid, from cotton kite string to plastic-coated Kevlar cord. Anchor points for the grid lines can be trees, wooden stakes, or metal fence posts.
Grid specifications can be variable, but grid lines spaced 20 feet apart and suspended at least 3 feet above the water should exclude geese while still allowing access by ducks, gulls, and other smaller birds.
The grid can be adjusted if water levels change or if geese penetrate the system by landing on the shore and walking under the grid into the water. One solution would be a barrier along the water’s edge. For example, attach two strands of cord, 6-inches and 12-inches above the ground and running the length of the shore, to the anchor points. For a more permanent solution, plant a hedgerow or install a fence.
Because geese can fly, fencing alone may not exclude them from an area. But fencing can barricade geese from areas of pedestrian traffic, such as sidewalks, during the nesting season. Fencing is also effective during the flightless period. For best results, the fence should present a visual as well as physical barrier that prevents geese from seeing passers-by. This allows for egg incubation while keeping people safe from potentially-aggressive birds.
Fencing along the shoreline of a pond or lake will prevent geese from walking from water onto shore. Even though geese can fly over them, these short fences often work well when combined with harassment. Consider conventional woven wire, snow, chain-link, and picket fences, single or dual strands of cord or wire, or chicken wire.
One fence proven popular and effective, especially for private yards, is a triple-strand electric fence. The wire should be strung 5, 10, and 15 inches above the ground. The amperage required to exclude Canada geese is minimal and will not harm them. NOTE: Prevent accidental shocks to pedestrians by marking electric fences with appropriate signage.
Often used in conjunction with other exclusion methods, mylar tape helps create a visual barrier. The tape is one-half inch wide, red on one side and silver on the other. To use as a fence, string one or two strands between two posts, twisting the tape two or three times as you put it up. The tape flashes in the breeze and makes the geese nervous, encouraging them to go elsewhere. The unfamiliar flash is startling to geese and makes them shy away from the area.
Habitat modification involves physically altering property to make it less attractive to geese. Modifications should focus on reducing or eliminating food sources and nesting sites, as well as access between these resources and your pond or lake.
Don't feed the geese
If geese are a nuisance in your community, the first step is to adopt and enforce a no-feeding ordinance. All artificial feeding should be stopped immediately. Post “Do Not Feed Waterfowl” signs in public areas. People who feed geese must be educated about the harm they are doing. Feeding concentrates geese and makes them more aggressive toward people because food is expected. They are also more susceptible to diseases such as avian botulism and avian cholera. Finally, most handouts are nutritionally inadequate and some actually cause harm.
Remove domestic waterfowl
Domestic waterfowl, including mute swans, act as decoys for Canada geese flying over an area. The presence of swans does not discourage geese.
Create barriers along ponds and lakes
Canada geese prefer gentle, grassy slopes that allow them to easily walk into and out of the water to feed or rest. If access to the water is difficult, adult geese may leave the area to raise their young elsewhere.
Steepen the shoreline by building a vertical seawall three feet above the surface of the water, or create a 63-degree angle from the water's edge. This is most easily accomplished during construction but existing ponds and lakes can also be modified. Allowing vegetation to grow tall along this slope will help protect it from erosion and keep the geese from walking up. Rip-rap, while ineffective on gentle slopes, is often effective on steeper ones.
Allow water to freeze
The aeration of ponds is one reason why Canada geese have become year-round residents. Allowing a pond to freeze forces geese to seek other water sources and may even encourage them to migrate. A concentration of geese will maintain open water even in below-freezing temperatures. Harass geese to make them leave long enough for ice to form.
Manage grass and plants
Canada geese prefer to eat grass, especially young succulent shoots abundant in mowed, fertilized lawns. The following techniques can help reduce this goose smorgasbord in your community.
Eliminate mowing: Geese prefer short, succulent grass. Taller grass is less palatable and can hide potential predators. Eliminate mowing at least 20 feet from pond shorelines—or even larger tracks—to encourage geese to look for safer spots with better food sources.
Plant prairie grasses: Tall, lush native prairie grass stands along shorelines provide the same benefits as eliminating mowing because geese cannot see over the grass while walking through it. Also, prairie grasses are less palatable than turf grass. Widen the stand to increase its effectiveness.
Plant less palatable plants and grasses: Listed below are plants and grasses that geese generally do and do not prefer to eat. Replacing preferred with less preferred varieties will make your property less inviting to geese.
Grasses Canada geese prefer:
- Kentucky bluegrass
- Brome grass
- Canary grass
- Colonial bentgrass
- Perennial ryegrass
- Red fescue
Grasses and plants Canada geese do not prefer:
- Big bluestem grass
- Little bluestem grass
- Indian grass
- Switch grass
- Mature tall fescue
- Hosta or plantain lily
- Ground juniper
Canada geese prefer areas with minimum disturbance. If someone or something bothers them enough, they typically move to another area. However, they can become accustomed to some techniques if they learn they won’t be harmed.
Harassment techniques are most effective in January through March before breeding and nesting has begun. Persistence is important. Canada geese either raised in or accustomed to feeding in an area will be more difficult to move. Harassment is completely ineffective from mid-June to early July when geese molt their primary flight feathers and are unable to fly.
Chasing geese on foot or in a golf cart is labor intensive but can be successful when done with persistence and in conjunction with other harassment methods. The goal is to chase geese long enough to cause them to go elsewhere.
Using dogs to harass geese is popular and successful. Some businesses use highly-trained border collies, but any athletic, medium-to-large dog capable of obeying commands can be used. Control of the dog is vital because it is considered an extension of your hand and therefore cannot be allowed to catch, injure, or kill a Canada goose. NOTE: Dogs are not a viable option during the early summer flightless period because of the risk of physical contact.
Typically, the handler and dog enter the area where unwanted geese are present and, on command, the dog is allowed to chase the geese. The geese will likely seek refuge in nearby water, and the dog can be allowed to enter the water to swim after them. Effectiveness can be increased by using a boat or pyrotechnics to further harass the geese. Harassment should be repeated and continue until the geese leave the area permanently.
Class-III B moderate-power lasers (between 5 and 500mW with red or green beam) effectively disperse birds, including Canada geese. Although they should never be pointed directly at people, roadways, or aircraft, they are a safe and effective alternative to pyrotechnics, shotguns, and other harassment tools. They are most effective in low light conditions, but new technology is increasing daytime effectiveness.
When using lasers, treat them as you would a long-range firearm; that is, be mindful of what is beyond the target, the beam’s range (which is similar to that of a bullet), and its reflection (similar to a ricochet). Always consult the owner's manual before use.
Remember: Treat lasers like a long-range firearm by considering the background; range of the beam, which is like the projectile; and the reflection, which is like a ricochet. Always consult the owner’s manual for safety information before using.
Pyrotechnics used to frighten wildlife are designated as Class C fireworks and include:
- Screamers and bangers — large bottle rocket-type devices fired from a 15-mm starter's pistol that whistle loudly and/or explode. These may be used without a permit.
- Shellcrackers — firecrackers fired from a 12-gauge shotgun. A permit is required to use these and other Explosive Pest Control Devices. All have specific storage requirements (check with your local Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives office for specific details and visit their website for more information.
The distance a particular device will travel varies from 50 to several hundred yards, depending on type. Check with the manufacturer to ensure that a particular device will fit your needs.
Persons using pyrotechnics should be properly trained and always wear eye and ear protection. Exercise caution when using in populated areas. NOTE: Check with local authorities regarding possible restrictions before purchase, and always notify local law enforcement before use.
When used in conjunction with other measures, the following can help encourage geese to move elsewhere. Persistence is the key. As long as the geese are not physically harmed, these techniques are legal.
- Air horns
- High pressure water sprayers
Requests for a chemical spray to repel geese are common, but relatively few over-the-counter products are available because of strict registration requirements. To be registered, a product must achieve the manufacturer’s claims with little or no adverse environmental impacts. Use of these products does not guarantee success and they should be employed as part of an integrated management plan. Products currently registered include:
Three products use methyl anthranilate (artificial grape flavoring): ReJeX-It Migrate™, GooseChase™, and Goose-B-Gone™. These products modify the birds' behavior through taste aversion. That is, grass treated with methyl anthranilate is unpalatable to geese. The birds may still frequent the treated area, but will no longer feed there. If allowed to dry first, methyl anthranilate will not wash off after a rain, but it must be reapplied after mowing.
Flight Control™ is a product that contains anthraquinone and repels geese in two ways. First, application enhances the ultraviolet spectrum, making grass appear visually strange and unnatural (to geese, not to people). Second, eating treated grass causes an unpleasant but harmless gut reaction that, when combined with the visual effect, encourages geese to go elsewhere to feed and loaf. It will not wash after a rain but must be reapplied after mowing. A growth regulator can be used to slow grass growth. Anthraquinone is environmentally safe and produces no long-term physical effects.
One pair of Canada geese can become more than 50 birds in as little as five years. Lethal control can reduce the number of geese produced in an area. At present, three methods of lethal control are allowed, and all require a permit of some kind. Please note that some methods may not be allowed in your area.
Where feasible, hunting is an important tool for goose management. Hunting reduces the number of birds in an area and also has a repellent effect on geese hunted but not taken. Further, it reinforces the effectiveness of pyrotechnics. In Missouri, the timing of the early goose hunting season allows for the taking of local (resident) Canada geese before migrants arrive. All hunters must be properly licensed. See current regulations for details. Check with local authorities regarding the use of firearms in your area.
Nest and egg destruction
Egg addling or oiling prevents the embryo from developing, thereby slowing the growth of local goose populations. And because no young are produced, the protective aggression of adult geese is eliminated.
Because geese are federally protected, registration is required for egg and nest destruction activities. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers online registration for egg and nest destruction at epermits.fws.gov/ercgr/gesi.aspx if the reasons are justified.
Capture and euthanasia
With authority from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department issues permits for the removal of localized Canada goose populations from sites where other control measures have been ineffective. Geese are captured during their flightless period (mid-June to early July), shipped to a commercial meat processor for slaughter and packaging, and the meat donated to food pantries for distribution to the needy. This method of last resort is allowed only when other methods have been unsuccessful. The party requesting the removal (for example, golf course, subdivision, municipality, etc.) is responsible for all removal and processing costs. Contact the nearest Department office to request consideration of this option for your situation.
Methods Not Recommended
Although frequently asked about, the following methods are not considered effective methods of deterrent.
Plastic scare devices
Plastic swans, alligators, owls, and snakes are ineffective for repelling Canada geese. Limited success has been reported with floating dead goose decoys, but effectiveness is usually short-lived.
Some communities have tried using swans to deter geese in hopes that these aggressive birds will vigorously defend their territory, especially during the breeding season, and drive other waterfowl from the area.
Native swans are difficult to acquire, so nonnative mute swans are commonly used instead. Mute swans are much more tolerant of other waterfowl and may only defend their immediate nesting area. Further, their presence can attract geese to a pond or lake, and it is not uncommon to find mute swans and Canada geese peacefully sharing a site. Also, swans are sometimes more aggressive towards people than geese. The reality is that mute swans usually only add to the problem.
Capture and relocation
Capture and relocation of adult Canada geese is not viable because geese imprint on the area where they learn to fly and, if relocated, simply return. However, relocation is somewhat effective for young, flightless juveniles that learn to fly at the release area, rather than the capture area. Regardless, Canada geese already occupy virtually all suitable habitat, so opportunities to relocate juveniles are limited.
There are no toxicants registered with the Environmental Protection Agency for the control of Canada geese in the United States. Therefore, none are recommended.