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Brooklyn Bird Watch: March 31

Canada Goose. Scientific Name: Branta canadensis

March 31, 2023 Joseph Palmer
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Today Brooklyn Bird Watch features a close-up, portrait style photo of the Canada Goose (sometimes called the Canadian Goose) by Heather Wolf. Known for their V-shaped formation and loud familiar honking sound during migration flights, these large long-necked birds have a complex relationship history with humans. While they are admired, they are also feared (if you get too close to a nest), and legitimately criticized as a nuisance sometimes.

As the National Audubon Society explains, “This big ‘Honker’ is among our best-known waterfowl. In many regions, flights of Canada Geese passing over — northbound in spring, southbound in fall — are universally recognized as signs of the changing seasons. Once considered a symbol of wilderness, this goose has adapted well to civilization, nesting around park ponds and golf courses; in a few places, it has even become something of a nuisance.”

One nuisance situation is because of these birds’ historical adaptation to grass lands. With the proliferation of lawns in suburban areas, in conjunction with the parks and golf courses, over time Canadian Geese have decided to stay around in urban areas where people consider them pests, meaning of course, people naturally would rather admire them from a comfortable distance, than share a landscape with them where bird feces, aggression, or noise can become a problem.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology informs us that there are at least 11 subspecies of the Canada Goose that are recognized, but only a couple of those species are distinctive. Some smaller forms of geese are now considered a different species, such as the Cackling Goose.

In New York State, according to the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the changes in migratory habits of the Canada Goose have caused both an increase in complaints as well as an increase in the severity of complaints. Even though these large birds are considered a valuable natural resource, problems include:

  • Over-grazed lawns
  • Accumulations of droppings and feathers on play areas and walkways
  • Nutrient loading to ponds
  • Public health concerns at beaches and near drinking water supplies
  • Aggressive behavior by nesting birds
  • Safety hazards near roads and airports

In urban and suburban areas throughout New York State, expanses of short grass, abundant lakes and ponds, lack of natural predators, limited hunting, and supplemental feeding have created an explosion in resident goose numbers.

DEC biologists have concluded that a more acceptable number of resident geese in New York would be at or below 85,000 birds. This is far fewer than the current population estimate of more than 200,000 birds.

A note regarding these birds as a nuisance: I remember I was playing golf with some friends in Florida several years ago during early spring. There was a par 3 hole with a lake along the right side of the fairway close enough that a bad slice would put your ball in the hazard. One of our foursome, as recreational golfers will sometimes do, hit a bad shot that ended up near the water’s edge only about 50 yards out from the tee. We had not noticed but two large Canada Geese had a nest near some reeds in the vicinity of where the ball ended up.

As our friend approached his ball a Canadian Goose appeared from behind some small reeds, obviously angry, honking and hissing and loudly flapping its wings running at the golfer who wisely decided not to go any closer toward his ball.

If you are not prepared for it, this attacking mode of the Canada Goose can be very intimidating. So, we had to give our friend a free drop back toward the middle of the fairway, a safe distance from the original ball.

Of course, if you ask the geese, they would claim that we the golfers were the nuisance by disturbing their nesting site and hence, forcing them to become nervous and aggressive.

Instead of calling the golf course Club House to complain, we all agreed that the best solution to our problem that day would have been to just hit a better golf shot.

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