It’s difficult to ruffle the feathers of a Canada goose. That’s what researchers from the University of Illinois discovered when they tested the effectiveness of winter harassment techniques to drive Canada geese to leave sites in urban Chicago.
Wildlife harassment is a nonlethal management technique that encourages animals to move on from an area by increasing a location’s sense of risk and danger. It’s used to manage Canada geese in cities where the birds can clash with people for a number of reasons, from fouling green spaces with their droppings to colliding with aircraft.
The study’s researchers harassed Canada geese by approaching the animals on foot and ATVs and then clacking lumber boards together. They expected that the harassment would be more effective at dispersing geese during the challenging winter season. But surprisingly, the researchers found that harassment was ineffective at significantly changing the behaviour of geese and had diminishing returns over time.
“Birds never fail to amaze,” says Doug Tozer, the director of waterbirds and wetlands at Birds Canada. Tozer, (who was not involved with the study), adds, “Just when you think you know how they operate, they turn around and do something like this. I find it humbling and fascinating.”
For cottage owners (or home owners) who don’t want to share their space with Canada geese, Tozer suggests making your property unattractive to geese in the first place, regardless of the season.
“Geese pretty much eat only grass, and they prefer large open spaces so they can see predators approaching,” says Tozer. “If you don’t want geese around then get rid of your grass, or, at least reduce the amount of grass you have.”
Planting trees and shrubs can also repel geese. This technique is particularly helpful in the summer when geese have a gaggle of young in their care. “Geese with young prefer to be able to run directly from grass to the lake if there’s a threat,” says Tozer. “If you block that path, they won’t come to eat your grass.”
“Birds are really good at what they do,” says Tozer. “They’re smart, they’re adaptive. They often take opportunities when they arise, we therefore shouldn’t get impatient with them when they try their best to survive amongst us.” He adds, “humans are, in theory, smart too. And if true, then we should be able to figure out ways to coexist with birds and other wildlife.”