Wherever there are Canada geese, there are goose droppings—and that’s the main problem that people have with these otherwise mostly harmless birds.
Geese shouldn’t be killed for doing what comes naturally, especially when long-term, effective and humane solutions exist. You can help establish peace between geese and the communities where they live.
- Why do some people consider geese a problem?
- Why don’t the geese migrate?
- Why doesn’t killing the geese work?
- Why is killing geese inhumane?
- Aren’t geese protected by law?
- Are goose droppings harmful to people?
- Are geese dangerous?
- My community is planning to kill geese. What can I do?
- How can I keep geese away from areas where they’re not welcome?
- Do I need a permit to implement a humane goose management plan?
- Additional resources
Canada geese tend to hang around places where people like to recreate, such as parks, ball fields, golf courses, lakes and picnic spots, and some people object to the droppings they leave on grass and walkways. Others may be alarmed by the defensive actions geese will perform to warn off people who get too close to their nests or goslings.
Geese can be a cause for concern if they live around airports. For the safety of both air travelers and wildlife, airports need safety programs that make their grounds and surrounding areas unappealing habitats for the birds while using humane techniques to prevent flock growth.
There was a time when Canada geese, decimated by hunting and habitat loss, were rarely seen in the lower 48 states. Then in the 1960s, the federal government and state wildlife agencies started breeding the birds and relocating them throughout the U.S. Birds learn to migrate from their parents and flock (they’re not born with the knowledge), so the descendants of these captive-bred animals never learned to migrate to their traditional nesting grounds in Canada. These “resident geese” now live year-round in cities and suburbs where expansive lawns, parks, golf courses and artificial ponds make perfect goose habitats.
Rounding up and killing geese is a temporary fix at best, as it just leaves room for a new flock to move right in. The best and most effective way to solve conflicts with Canada geese is with a multipronged plan that humanely reduces the goose population and changes the habitat so it’s less attractive to geese.
Most lethal roundups occur during the birds’ annual molt, from mid-June through July, when they are growing new flight feathers and can’t fly. The geese are typically herded into pens and then packed into crates before being killed by carbon dioxide gas (a painful and distressing death), often in small chambers on the back of trucks at the roundup site.
Sometimes, the geese are trucked to slaughterhouses. Because their meat can’t be sold, it may be offered to food banks to create the false impression that the killing serves a charitable purpose. In reality, goose meat is often contaminated with lead, pesticides and other toxicants, and food banks often reject these donations.
Federal law ostensibly protects Canada geese, making it illegal to harm them, their eggs or their nests. However, that only means people can’t harm birds without a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which frequently gives property owners permission to kill Canada geese in urban and suburban areas.
No matter how big or small your outdoor space, you can create a haven for local wildlife. By providing basic needs like water, food and shelter, you can make a difference in your own backyard.
Goose droppings don’t pose any special health threats to people. Obviously, you want to avoid contact with any animal feces. Ordinary good hygiene, such as washing hands and leaving shoes at the door, are adequate prevention if you accidentally contact goose droppings.
Canada geese pose little threat to people, but they will defend their nests and goslings. Unsuspecting people can get too close and inadvertently provoke defensive responses by the parents, such as hissing, wing-flapping or charging. If this happens, simply back away. You can help the geese and any passersby by marking off the nest with highly visible warnings, such as cones with caution tape.
Commercial pest control firms and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services carry out many of the roundups and killing of geese. The costs are borne by taxpayers when the geese are on public property and by homeowner associations when the geese reside on HOA property. Taxpayers and HOA members have a right to demand their money be spent ethically and effectively, not squandered on killing geese. Tell your elected officials or your HOA-elected board that lethal roundups are ineffective and unacceptable and that there are better ways to control the goose population.
Our free toolkit offers steps you can take to encourage the adoption of a humane geese management plan, including fact sheets you can distribute to your community and sample language for social media posts, letters to officials, testimony before a municipal council and more.
Many communities have humanely managed their goose populations for years. These programs use a combination of techniques to curtail reproduction and to keep geese away from areas where they’re causing problems.
Keep in mind that it isn’t possible (or even desirable) to eliminate geese from a community. The goal is to reduce conflicts to an acceptable level. Solutions need to address the specific conflicts and the sites on which they are occurring, not attack all geese generally.
The best geese control programs follow a seasonal plan based on goose biology and behavior (refer to page 5 of our toolkit) and combine at least two of the following three key elements:
1. Limit flock size
Since Canada geese often return to the nest where they hatched to raise their own young, curtailing reproduction can lead to fewer geese nesting at a given site in the future.
One way to limit flock growth and stabilize goose populations is to keep eggs from hatching. In a process known as “addling,” eggs are treated with corn oil or removed from the nest, which is humane if done at the earliest stages of development. A contraceptive—nicarbazin sold under the brand name OvoControl—is also registered to reduce hatching and manage populations humanely.
2. Scare geese away
Harassing or scaring geese away so they learn a site isn’t a safe place is an effective technique for solving conflicts with geese when used in conjunction with an egg addling or contraception program. The most effective way to scare geese away is with specially trained goose-herding dogs working with a handler. These dogs convince the geese the site isn’t safe for them (but must never catch or harm geese).
Lasers and other light-emitting devices specifically designed to scare birds are useful at dusk as geese settle down for the night. Scaring birds away from night roosts means they will start their day elsewhere. Another option is to use chemical repellents, which can be dispersed as a fog or sprayed on grass to keep geese away from high-priority areas.
Site aversion efforts are most effective before nesting season in the spring and after geese regain their flight feathers in the summer. Don’t attempt to scare away geese who are nesting, molting or raising young goslings who don’t yet have their flight feathers.
3. Modify the habitat
The best way to avoid Canada goose problems (and often the most cost-effective in the long run) is to change the habitat so it doesn’t appeal to them. Geese feel safe from predators where there are open sight lines, so they can see predators coming, and where they can easily escape onto open water. To make an area less attractive to geese, use dense, tall plantings or stands of trees along shorelines to make a barrier between food and water, and locate ball fields and other grassy expanses as far from open water as possible. Reduce the total amount of lawn and reduce the young grass shoots geese like the most. Replace Kentucky bluegrass, i.e. “goose candy,” with other grasses, such as tall fescue.
Since geese will gather where they’re fed, it’s also important to let people know that human food isn’t healthy for geese and that feeding the birds can thwart humane management efforts.
Habitat changes work better if geese can go to a “tolerance zone” that meets their needs. Leave tolerance zones—and the geese in them—alone, and the geese will more readily vacate the areas where they’re not welcome.
Geese may be harassed or scared away without a permit as long as the geese, goslings, eggs and nests aren’t harmed. The USFWS allows communities to treat resident Canada goose eggs to prevent hatching (a process called addling) after registering online. Some states require you to get their permission as well. To use the contraceptive nicarbazin, you must have a federal permit and should check for state permit requirements.