John's Journal...

Hometown Geese and Nuisance Geese

Why a Nuisance Goose Season

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: Why do so many states in the South and across the country have September nuisance-goose seasons now? In the mid-1950s, populations of the lesser snow goose, commonly known as the Canada goose, had diminished nearly to extinction mostly because of market hunting. For instance, one professional waterfowler, Captain Theodore Johnson, killed more than 100,000 birds in a decade of hunting in the late 1800s in the swamps and deltas around New Orleans, Louisiana. Yet now because of changed agricultural practices and new restrictions on hunting, the Canada goose has made a dramatic comeback. Over 1-million Canada geese live in resident-goose colonies throughout the United States. Some call this resurgence of goose numbers one of wildlife management's greatest triumphs. However, success often creates problems, and in this instance both birds and people have paid the price. Nearly every state in the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways has created a hunting season specifically for so-called nuisance geese, resident geese that remain in an area throughout the year. Hunting seasons for resident geese benefit both northern hunters who often observe overcrowded skies and southern hunters who rarely see migrant flocks of Canada geese in their areas.

Stabilizes Goose Populations:   
According to Jerry Siree, the Atlantic flyway representative for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Click to enlarge
(USFWS), resident-goose populations have reached adequate population sizes. Officials believe the populations now can provide a sustained harvest level if harvested. The nuisance seasons stabilize the bird populations.           Ken Gamble, Mississippi flyway representative for the USFWS, monitors the migration of several goose populations each year. “Currently, the mid-continent population of the lesser snow goose has the most-abundant numbers,” Gamble says. “These geese nest along the southern and western shores of the Hudson and James bays and migrate through the eastern part of the central flyway and primarily through the western part of the Mississippi flyway, although their distribution has broadened somewhat in recent years. “The high numbers of geese cause depredation in some regions. But even goose populations not considered overabundant can cause depredation during seasons when they're concentrated in one spot. However, merely the fact that their numbers are so large doesn't necessarily mean they cause depredation. The main concern is that the goose populations are so large they have a severe impact on the breeding grounds.” The intensive grazing of a large goose population essentially has destroyed vegetation in the breeding grounds on the coasts of the Hudson and James bays. In other words, these geese eat themselves out of house and home.

Removes Pesky Geese:    
This hungry population continues to grow throughout the Mississippi flyway, which includes Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, Iowa, Ohio, Minnesota and Michigan. Many people call these birds resident geese, although Gamble prefers the term, locally nesting, to describe these geese. “Calling them resident or non-migratory geese is a misnomClick to enlargeer,” Gamble explains. “Most of them do make a migration to molt during the summer or the early fall. They generally nest in the United States. Although not entirely of the species known as giant Canada geese, for the most part these geese belong to that subspecies. Their numbers, in the Mississippi flyway at least, have grown very large. The geese cause more-frequent problems in business and residential sections of cities, around golf courses and even on crops. But the geese primarily have negatively impacted their breeding grounds.” The spring breeding survey showed that resident geese in the Atlantic flyway alone numbered over a million birds. “A decade ago, these birds numbered somewhere around 200,000 or 300,000,” Siree of the USFWS says. The nuisance-goose phenomenon has grown steadily as the resident-goose population in the Atlantic flyway has increased.

According to Siree, “In recent years, the growth of goose numbers has reached proportions causing numerous problems in airports, city parks and other places. Wildlife biologists expend a lot of effort these days to find solutions to those problems.” Historically, geese establishing permanent residence have caused problems on the Atlantic flyway north of the Mason-Dixon Line. But today this resident-goose problem has migrated south. “Since the late 1960s and 1970s, the number of problem areas with nuisance geese has grown,” Siree explains. “Although New Jersey contains some of the most-crowded goose populations in the Atlantic flyway, we have a nuisance problem all the way from Maine through Maryland and Virginia. Almost all states of the Atlantic flyway today have nuisance-goose seasons, including states in the Deep South.”

Geese begin breeding in late February and early March, with goslings born as soon as early May.  Since goslings can't fly for at least 2 months, the adults won't leave the nesting areas during that time. While these geese stay with their young, they find our modern landscaping, even in urban areas, an appealing and attractive habitat. Golf courses, for example, usually home numerous pClick to enlargeonds and delicious grass the geese love. These semi-hostile takeovers by Canada geese settling in residential districts and public regions leave thousands of dollars of wreckage in their wake. In one instance, migrating Canada geese camped on an island within a pond belonging to a Connecticut couple. Once the neighbors began feeding the birds, the geese took up permanent residence and became increasingly aggressive, often chasing the homeowners, their children and even the family dogs. Florida's Daytona Beach International Airport considers resident geese a potential hazard to planes and has had some mechanical difficulties with goose-damaged engines. In the late 1990s, Seattle, Washington, had so-many resident geese that people barely could use the 96-public parks and golf courses there. Often geese attacked golfers or wouldn't let them near the greens.

Provides Recreational Hunting Opportunities:
Nuisance goose seasons not only serve to control the population but provide recreation as well. “Most states throughout the flyway, including the southeastern states, have provisions for special Canada goose seasons,” Gamble explains. “The provisions allow for a season of up to 15 days. Overall, the federal framework allows a bag limit of five birds/day. But sometimes states will select a lower bag limit.”

If resident-goose populations keep increasing at their current rates, other states may follow suit. “The hunting seasons not only help control the growth rate of the flocks,” Gamble explains. “But the populations are large enough now to provide the same recreation hunters find during regular hunting seasons for migratory Canada geese. We limit the season to the early period to direct pressure on this resident group of Canada geese. In the field, you can't really tell the difference between a giant goose and the slightly smaller migrant bird coming from the northern breeding areas. So that's why we hold these special seasons at a time when migrant birds don't inhabit an area.”

“Since parts of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina really don't receive migrant geese, the nuisance seasons occur during a regular season, and those seasons have liberal lengths and bag limits,” Siree says. “But those seasons remain specifically for harvesting resident breeding birds, which may or may not have reached nuisance levels. You have to be careful when you refer to those geese in the negative sense as being nuisances. Basically, they are resident, breeding Canada geese. Several southeastern states have had seasons on them for years, and those states' nuisance complaints have decreased. However, the seasons weren't motivated only because the birds were a nuisance.” The harvest numbers prove the nuisance seasons pay off for hunters. In some states such as Pennsylvania, harvests may exceed 50,000 resident geese in a single year. “A lot of states believed hunters would have no interest in shooting resident birds, but the opposite proved true,” explains Siree. “Hunters go out in September in the early season and set up to harvest birds before the migrants arrive.

Tomorrow: How to Remove Nuisance Geese

Check back each day this week for more about "Hometown Geese and Nuisance Geese"

Day 1: A Local Goose Season Means No Nuisance Geese
Day 2: Tactics for Hunting Resident Geese
Day 3: Redemption
Day 4: Why a Nuisance Goose Season
Day 5: How to Remove Nuisance Geese


Entry 474, Day 4