Canadian Geese in Urban Environments
Canada Geese are a highly valued natural resource for many Canadians. They arrive in the spring and return to the same site each year, due to their strong homing abilities. In urban areas, geese will nest at retention basins, in parks, near sidewalks, entrances of buildings, paths and roadways and even on raised structures, such as rooftops. They prefer to nest within 50 metres of water and geese are loyal to nest sites, with the female often setting up a nest along with her partner in the area where she hatched.
And while beautiful to watch, geese can seem like a nuisance at times - making a mess on lawns and in parks, causing vehicle accidents, and showing aggression during the nesting season.
Goose populations have increased dramatically over the past 25 years. This increased population has resulted in human-goose conflicts.
People can also be a threat to geese. Harmful behaviours like feeding, chasing and scaring geese are highly discouraged. Canadian Geese are protected by federal law. This means that no migratory birds, their eggs or nests may be harmed. Doing so could result in criminal charges.
Here is some information that can help us live in harmony with our feathered friends:
- Do not feed geese. Unfortunately, geese seem to be fed bread, chips, cake, cookies and cereal, and other processed foods. Geese are herbivores and thrive on plant material. It is important to remember that urban geese already have enough food, in the form of vast mown lawns, to keep them healthy. In addition to bread having low nutritional value, feeding leads to geese being unafraid of human and even following humans for handouts. This can result in aggressive birds and pose human health and safety risks. When food is thrown on land, Canada Geese will begin to leave the water when they see people - this could put them at risk from urban predators, such as dogs and foxes. Geese congregating in areas where food is being provided also concentrates their waste into a smaller area.
- Do not chase geese. Geese can be involved in conflicts with people, particularly when they are present in urban areas. Aggressive displays by birds are usually due to human presence around nests and goslings. Geese will defend against any perceived threat to their eggs and young often hissing, lowering their heads and sometimes flying at the threat. Nesting Canada geese will actively defend their nest sites, and aggressive pairs can sometimes cause injuries, especially to small children or pets. Canadian Geese are protected by federal law under the Migratory Birds Convention Act. This means that causing harm to them can result in criminal charges.
- Protect Your Pets. Geese can be aggressive and injure dogs, so dogs should be kept on leashes when in any public area. Keep cats indoors.
- Discouraging Geese. Scare tactics such as predator decoys, fences decorated with flagging, and noise machines can encourage geese to locate to new, friendlier habitats. Remember that Canadian Geese are protected by federal law under the Migratory Birds Convention Act. This means that no migratory birds, their eggs or nests may be harmed.
- Goose Droppings. Congregating Canada geese can lead to the accumulation of goose droppings. Although often cited as a concern, goose waste is not considered a health threat to humans and other animals in urban settings. When contact with goose droppings is unavoidable, good hygiene is a suitable preventative measure.
- Traffic Safety. Many geese will nest near roads and in parking lots. Once goslings have hatched, their parents will move them closer to water. In some areas this movement results in gaggles of geese attempting to cross busy roads. Many drivers will avoid running over geese and their goslings, but sudden stopping could result in accident and injury.
It is easy to focus on the issues stemming from Canada goose populations, but some of the benefits of Canada goose populations include:
- The enjoyment of following geese through their life stages - from hatching to flight, from fluffy yellow goslings to birds indistinguishable from their parents.
- Opportunities to enjoy nature without leaving the City.
- Opportunities to learn about animals and animal behaviour.
- Defining the change of seasons: their migration tells us spring is coming and winter is on its way.
- Recreational value for bird-watchers and photographers.
Why do geese thrive in cities?
Living in urban areas has been beneficial to goose populations.
- Abundant Food. Canada Geese are almost exclusively herbivorous. They eat mostly plants, and sometime bugs. Mown, fertilized grass in parks and in backyards is the ideal food for geese.
- Security from Predators. Geese prefer to have an open view of their surroundings. This means no trees, shrubs, rocks or other plants where predators could lurk. The wide open spaces of a city's sports fields, parks and school yards provide this sense of security. A lower risk of predation in cities provides security.
- Preferred Nesting Habitat. Geese prefer to nest within 50 metres of a body of water and when the goslings hatch it is a quick trip to relative safety. Geese with young will defend them vigorously and are unlikely to abandon them when threatened.
- Easy Access to Water. There is a portion of time in the summer months when both adult resident geese and goslings are flightless. They need to be able to quickly access water. The security of water provides geese and their goslings an escape route when danger arises. They need to walk into water because they can't fly.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How can feeding the geese harm them? When fed by people, geese lose their natural fear which often leads to more violent attacks during the spring nesting season, because they will begin nesting closer to areas that people frequent.
- Why is it harmful to chase geese? Nesting Canada geese will actively defend their nest sites, and aggressive pairs can sometimes cause injuries, especially to small children or pets. Goose attacks on humans have caused serious physical injury, such as broken bones, head injuries, and emotional distress, many occurring when the person tried to avoid an attack and tripped. In addition, Canadian Geese are protected by federal law. This means that no migratory birds, their eggs or nests may be harmed. Doing so could result in criminal charges.
- What do I do if I encounter an aggressive goose? If an intruder enters their territory, the goose will usually give a warning call. Geese have excellent vision and seem to pay very close attention to the eyes and body language of humans and other animals. Coming across an aggressive goose can pass peacefully if you maintain direct eye contact while facing your body directly towards the attacking goose. Never turn your back or shoulders away, and never close or squint your eyes. Some geese can be very aggressive and will only stop their attack when the intruder has left.
- There are unwanted migratory birds on my property. What can I do? Environment Canada has developed a handbook on management techniques. Areas of concern include farmlands, airports, urban parks, golf courses, schools, cemeteries and residential properties, especially those near wetland areas.
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Additional Resources & Information
Environment and Climate Change Canada-Canadian Wildlife Service’s primary responsibility is the conservation of migratory birds, which includes Canada Geese
Environment & Climate Change Canada
9250 49 St NW
Edmonton, AB T6B 1K5
Phone: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)