'Been hissed at and chased at quite a few times': Can Canadians and Canada geese find peace?
The problem with Canada geese isn't the numbers, but their distribution, biologist says
Kate McLeod was strolling along the University of Waterloo campus this week, listening to music on her headphones perhaps a little too loudly, when she noticed two students staring at her and pointing.
"I look behind and there are these two geese charging at me," said McLeod, a second-year biochemistry student who lives on campus and crosses paths with the birds multiple times a day.
She ran for it, escaping a potential confrontation with her winged aggressors.
McLeod says she's developed mixed feelings about the ubiquitous birds on campus. She appreciates their presence, but not so much having to avoid possible attacks, all the while navigating through a minefield of geese droppings.
"You get a lot of geese poop on the bottom of your shoes, so you try not to wear your nicest shoes around campus," she said. "It's nice having wildlife around, but at the same time, sometimes they can be a little bit aggressive. I've been hissed at and chased at quite a few times."
Full protective mode
With nesting season in full swing, and Canada geese in full protective mode over their nests, confrontations between birds and humans are predictably on the rise.
And the populations of Canada geese are only getting bigger.
"No question, they're increasing all across Canada and all across North America," said Jim Leafloor, a biologist with the federal government's Canadian Wildlife Service.
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There are about seven million Canada geese in North America, but Leafloor said the problem isn't the numbers, it's their distribution across the country.
"We actually have bigger goose populations than Canada geese in many areas, but they don't cause problems because they're not living in cities where they have a lot of conflict with people."
Despite the growth in Canada goose populations, the government hasn't designated the birds as overabundant and culling large numbers of birds is certainly not something being considered, Leafloor said.
"Do I think it's gotten to a point where we need to try and essentially kill millions of Canada geese? No. I wouldn't say we've gotten to that stage."
Try to co-exist
That means geese and humans are going to have to try to co-exist. But for those who can't seem to make peace, Environment Canada will issue permits that allow people to relocate Canada geese in certain circumstances, remove the eggs, or, if all other options have been exhausted, euthanize the birds.
Leafloor's own department acknowledges on its website the damage that Canada geese create and potential danger they pose. They can be a significant threat to aircraft. As well, they can inflict some major damage to crops, parks, pastures, golf courses and homeowner lawns. And then of course, there's all the droppings.
But they can also become very aggressive and launch attacks against anyone they consider a threat to their nests.
Ottawa resident Kerry Surman had her own confrontation with a Canada goose three years ago. She was riding her bike in the afternoon along the Trans Canada Trail west of the city when she came upon six to eight geese crossing in the area.
"The adult goose at the end of a procession of goslings guessed that I was a threat because of the speed of my approach," she said. "He came up behind me and wrapped his wings around me. That's the last thing I remember."
Surman fell off her bike and smashed to the ground. She spent five days in hospital recovering from a severe concussion, broken cheekbone and facial lacerations.
While the attack didn't sour her on the bird, she did learn to respect its wingspan and strength.
"They are capable of a lot more aggressive behaviour than I would have expected, so I really do approach a lot more cautiously," she said. "And so I avoid some bike paths that are known to have a high goose population around them."
Baseball bats used
Concerns about aggressive Canada goose behaviour on campus recently led the University of Manitoba to hire a contractor to dispose of eggs. But many students and onlookers were shocked when they witnessed workers using baseball bats to destroy the eggs. (The university later cancelled the egg disposal, saying it didn't condone how it was done.)
However, not all Canada goose/human interactions are hostile.
Meanwhile, the University of Waterloo has its annual Goose Watch '17 web page up and running, which allows people to post photos and details of goose nesting sites to the school community.
"We thought it would be a fun sort of take on this kind of natural environment we have around us on campus and the day-to-day interactions we have with the geese that are around here," said site creator James McCarthy, a geospatial applications specialist at the university.
Goose nest etiquette
But along with nature spotting, Goose Watch also offers some goose nest etiquette to avoid confrontation:
- Maintain direct eye contact and keep your chest and face pointed at the goose.
- If the goose acts aggressively, calmly and slowly back away.
- Don't act hostile or show fear.
"Give them wide berth," said Leafloor. "They're not trifling birds. They can go 10 to 12 pounds. They can be very aggressive when they're defending a nest."