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CA

Why Winter Harassment Of Urban Canada Geese Doesn’t Make Them Go Away

Canada geese that left a Chicago park returned twice as quickly when molested compared to days when they left of their own accord

© Copyright by GrrlScientist | hosted by forbes

What shall we do with all the geese? canada geese, Branta canadensis, populations across Illinois have exploded, growing from an estimated 70,000 birds in 1997 to about 120,000 today. They’re widely considered a nuisance: planes sometimes collide with them (keep that in mind Miracles on the Hudson?), they boldly intimidate joggers who stray too close to their nests in the spring, and everywhere they go they fertilize all the carefully manicured lawns in parks, golf courses, ball fields, airport infields, and other green spaces by throwing colossal Piles leave droppings – a pound or more per bird per day.

What can be done to convince these big, poopy, and often bossy birds to just walk away? The usual response is to rely on dogs or humans to chase the geese until they finally disappear. Wildlife harassment is a non-lethal method of persuading wild animals to leave a certain area by increasing their sense of danger if they stay. Winter harassment is particularly popular in northern towns, as the energetics of the situation suggest the geese would leave rather than starve.

“The aim of the harassment is never to injure the geese, but to get them to expend energy during an already tough season and force them to migrate to warmer climates,” said study lead author Mike Ward. Professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES) with the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Professor Ward’s research focuses on species of conservation importance and he has developed a variety of novel approaches to achieve his goal. For example, Professor Ward often uses telemetry to wirelessly monitor bird behavior and migration.

“Harassment is part of an energy equation,” Professor Ward explained the logic behind the harassment strategy. “If a bird is hanging around Chicago in the winter, it’s probably not in good shape. It’s cold and there isn’t much to eat.”

And yet, from previous studies, we know that harassment doesn’t work. The birds don’t go. Why?

To answer that question, a large team of researchers collared some Chicago-based Canada geese wearing GPS tags with Fitbit-like movement trackers to learn where they go and how their behavior changes when they’re harassed.

Ward’s former graduate student Ryan Askren, now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Arkansas-Monticello, worked with USDA-Wildlife Services staff to harass Canada geese in Marquette Park near Chicago’s Midway Airport (Figure 1).

During the winters of 2017 and 2018, members of the research team hunted geese using ATVs while folding wooden planks together to create a giant bat. The team predicted that the noise and general drama of hunting would effectively drive geese away in winter, when food is scarce and the demands of keeping warm are greatest.

But things didn’t turn out the way the researchers predicted. The molested geese either moved to another location in the same park or stayed on commercial rooftops, at nearby railroad yards or in other parks, in water treatment ponds or sports fields for short periods of time before returning to their starting point in an hour or less – almost twice as fast compared to days when the geese weren’t bothered when leaving the park was their own idea.

Why? Are they just stubborn? Stupid?

“If we bother them, it will cause them to leave for a moment, but most likely they still have the urge to come back,” speculated Dr. Askren. “So they return faster, while the geese that leave without being molested stay away to use a resource elsewhere.”

What about the prediction that winter harassment would deplete geese’s valuable energy reserves, thereby encouraging them to move on?

dr Askren and Professor Ward and their collaborators did not find much evidence to support the energy prediction portion of their study.

“I thought using these Fitbit-like devices on the collar would be a creative way to understand resting, flying or foraging behavior,” Professor Ward said. “And when Ryan did all that physical work to figure out what that accelerometer data was going to tell us, I was very excited to see the results,” continued Professor Ward. “But when all the data was analyzed, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s not that exciting’.”

“Basically, they fly a little more if you bother them because you startle them, or maybe they’re a little more alert, but it wasn’t a fundamental difference.”

Could the results have been different if the researchers had used a different method of harassment? Scientists say it can be done, but the methods that show the most promise don’t usually go down well with the public. You know: lethal methods.

“The literature suggests that unless harassment has a lethal aspect, most methods of harassment don’t seem to be very effective, unless they really have a strong fear that they’re going to die, or some of them actually die, as said Askren.

Indeed, this could be one reason why these geese do not migrate: they are afraid to face hunters’ handgun fire.

Could it be that geese were born and raised in a big city, nonchalant or (dare I say it) unflappable? dr Askren and Professor Ward had worked with the same geese for other studies, so they knew which geese were migrants and which were long-time residents of Chicago. As they found, neither group was particularly bothered by their persecution and noise pollution issues.

Like so many human-wildlife conflicts, this is a man-made problem. Humans like huge lush lawns and geese too. People enjoy living on migratory routes, where geese will surely find that they offer a simple, predator-free life. But there are a few things individuals are doing to keep geese off their grass. You can either get rid of your large lawn altogether or shrink it altogether. Not only will this discourage geese, but it is also an environmentally sound response to an environmentally damaging and unsustainable drain on water and other resources. Another strategy is to plant trees and shrubs on your property to prevent geese and their young from fleeing a threat by taking refuge in a nearby body of water. Geese particularly like wide areas near bodies of water, such as golf courses.

Canada geese are very similar to humans in other ways too. They are highly adaptable, they are intelligent and have excellent memories, and they have a keen ability to distinguish between legitimate threats and mild annoyances.

“So we’re probably not going to get rid of them any time soon,” noted Dr. Askren.

“People don’t know how smart geese are,” Professor Ward agreed. “They have learned through life or from each other what the real risks are. We may find a good harassment technique, but it is likely that they will continue to increase in urban areas because they have found a good spot. They nest on buildings. I mean, who would have ever thought a goose would nest on top of a building? They should nest in wetlands. But they are very adaptable.”

Source:

Ryan J Askren, Mike W Eichholz, Christopher M Sharp, Brian E Washburn, Scott F Beckerman, Craig K Pullins, Auriel MV Fournier, Jay A Vonbank, Mitch D Weegman, Heath M Hagy, and Michael P Ward (2022). Behavioral responses of Canada geese to winter harassment in the context of human-wildlife conflict, Wildlife Society Newsletter 46(5):e1384 | doi:10.1002/wsb.1384


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