Canada geese: migration and your shoreline

Urban and suburban landscapes with short grass and few predators offer food and protection for Canada geese. Lush lawns along lakes and in golf courses are highly attractive to this bird.

Canada geese are a familiar fall sight beckoning the onset of autumn with their arrow shaped fly pattern pointed south. Michigan is the home to over 330,000 Giant Canada geese. Some stay year-round, many more are just passing by. Michigan’s hunting season for this bird runs on various dates from September through February.  The Canada goose is primarily a migrating bird seeking a reliable source of food and water, and protection from the winter weather.

This is where the conflict with homeowners come in. The Canada goose prefers short grassy areas near the water which describes the property of most waterfront homes, golf courses and parks. Humans also provide conveniently located pre-cut fields of residual grains as an additional adequate food source and there are very few predators large enough to kill this large bird living in those areas. This encourages the birds to stay year around near human population locations.

With few predators around to hunt the Giant Canada goose, they have rebounded quickly from an all-time low in the 1970. Geese are herbivores and have a preference for grass shoots, aquatic weeds, seeds and grains. Human-goose conflicts generally occur in urban areas where their copious amounts of droppings contaminate areas designed for humans and farms where their feeding can cause crop damage. Excessive goose droppings can raise fecal coliform levels in the soil and nearby bodies of water. This is a real problem in urban and residential areas.

Controlling geese on a shoreline can be problematic as they head to the water and then return a few minutes later when they are chased are off. Hunting helps, but it is suspected that they are actually learning and changed their feeding patterns to avoid hunters, seeking non-traditional roosting places during hunting season. Collies and other herding breeds of dogs are useful for repelling geese by making them less comfortable in certain locations. Other control methods include:

  • Decoys of dead geese or dogs, coyotes and other devices are also known to be defective deterrents.
  • Scare devices: firecrackers, bangers, distress cries, alarms, etc.
  • Creating a buffer zone along the lakeshore of tall vegetation is also known to help. The geese can’t see beyond the tall grass leaving a question of the presence of predators.
  • If you are a riparian owner with newly landscaped shorelines and a goose problem, temporary fencing may be in order to protect your new plants from being consumed by the geese.

It is important to note that the Canada goose is a federally protected migratory bird. Hunting as a control measure requires a state license and must occur within designated timeframes. If you are not a hunter, coupling tall grass buffers with decoys and dogs is very effective and does not require a license.

To learn more about Michigan’s natural resources, invasive organisms and aquatic invasive plants contact Michigan State University Extension Natural Resources educators who are working across Michigan to provide aquatic invasive species educational programming and assistance. You can contact an educator through MSU Extension’s “Find an Expert” search tool using the keywords “Natural Resources Water Quality.”

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