Yes, yes, we know they’re a symbol of Canada—they’re named after the country, after all. And they are quite attractive, with their graceful black necks, white chinstraps, and delicately subdued brown feathers. They mate for life, which is admirable. In fact, Canada geese are protected by the Migratory Birds Convention Act of 1994, which prohibits capturing or killing the birds or damaging, destroying, or removing their nests, except under very specific circumstances.
But while Canada geese are a protected species, they’re also experts at adapting to living in human-populated areas—and therein lies the trouble.
Because of abundant habitat and food, along with a lack of predators and relatively mild weather, goose populations have exploded, especially in urban and suburban parts of southern Canada. In many places they’re now considered pests, rather than elegant national symbols—here’s why:
There are a lot of them
There are at least seven million Canada geese in Canada, with numbers of geese in many areas that “exceed population objectives.” They’re the most common waterfowl species in all of North America. What’s more, they’re abundant in areas that, 30 years ago, they were uncommon or had no significant populations—meaning the ecosystem is not well equipped to handle them. Plus, geese in southern areas of the country have stopped migrating, giving their environment little time to recover from their presence.
They eat a lot of grass—and other things
Canada geese are attracted to large, flat areas with lots of grass and a source of water—which sounds like an awful lot of parks, cemeteries, and golf courses. A large flock of them can denude a park, golf course, pasture, or other landscaped area, meaning costly repairs for landowners. They’ll also eat grain crops, making them unpopular with farmers. There are ways to make land less attractive to geese, including scaring techniques, barriers, and letting grass grow longer, but these are sometimes impractical and can be expensive.
They’re dangerous around airports
Geese can cause serious damage to aircraft (and vice versa) and present a serious safety hazard on takeoff and landing, so airports use a lot of different ways to keep runways free of errant birds. Airports in Toronto and Vancouver, for example, use trained raptors, including bald eagles, to scare birds away naturally. Other airports use noise deterrents or chemical repellents.
They can be aggressive
Understandably, geese can be aggressive when defending nests, eggs, and goslings—and are big enough to actually injure small children or pets. That’s fine if they’re nesting on a wooded pond out in the woods—not so nice if they’re a few metres away from the local splashpad.
Although there is not a lot of data to show a direct link between goose poop and health problems in humans, large amounts of goose waste close to water can negatively affect water quality. Plus, walking through a park dotted with goose droppings is, well, kind of gross.
They can affect delicate ecosystems
Geese can cause problems in ecologically sensitive areas, either through the effects of grazing on habitats or through aggression towards more vulnerable species. For example, geese grazing on Vancouver Island are causing the shoreline to erode, affecting habitats for salmon and other waterbirds.
Got a problem with geese? Environment and Climate Change Canada provides a handbook on goose management that lays out potential management options, some of which require a federal permit to carry out.
Things you can do without a permit include not feeding geese (that’s probably a no-brainer), growing longer grass or planting a different type of grass, erecting barriers and fences, and some scaring tactics.