Most people enjoy the sight and sound of Canada geese. Ironically, these big birds have outsmarted humans by adapting and moving into cities and suburbs throughout their breeding range. As Canada goose populations grow, our yards, parks, lakes, and athletic fields are increasingly fouled with goose feces. This guide explains why problems with geese arise and how homeowners can reduce these problems.
Why are there so many geese?
Before the mid-1960s few or no Canada geese nested in the Anchorage Bowl. Geese passed through briefly during spring and fall migration. The number of geese nesting in Anchorage has increased at a rate of 13-14% per year since they established a breeding population.
The main reason for this increase is that we have inadvertently created a goose nesting paradise in Anchorage by combining two habitat features that Canada geese like: mowed lawns and lakes.
Geese prefer to eat low-fiber grass, high in protein and carbohydrates. When you mow your lawn, you increase the number of new, low-fiber grass blades. When you fertilize, you add nutrients that increase the protein and carbohydrate content. A mowed, fertilized lawn is perfect goose food. With a nearby lake to provide a landing and take-off site, drinking water, and a place to escape from dogs and humans, life looks pretty good to a nesting goose. In addition, there are few wild predators in town to threaten eggs or goslings.
Female geese usually return to nest in the area where they learned to fly. Because so many goslings are produced in Anchorage, and so few are killed by predators, every year more and more geese return. Geese can live as long as 20 years, so there are many generations of geese returning to Anchorage every year. The result is the population explosion you have noticed in your neighborhood.
How can I get the geese to leave?
No matter which methods you try, you must respond quickly, you must be persistent, and best results are achieved when you use more than one method at a time.
The effectiveness of these methods often depends on whether the geese are walking or flying into your yard. In April, when geese return to Anchorage, the flocks are attracted to the first grassy areas exposed by melting snow. Later in April, they move to lakes and ponds free of ice. During May and early June the geese disperse to nest. In late June and July, geese are molting (growing new wing and tail feathers) and cannot fly. At this time they concentrate on many of the lakes and large ponds in town. After the molt, the flocks remain together but can once again fly to large, grassy fields all over town. Geese usually leave Anchorage in late September or October.
Stop All Feeding
Homeowner efforts to frighten geese away are often frustrated by people feeding the geese next door or across the lake. If you or your neighbors are feeding Canada geese, you might as well give up trying to scare them away.
Wild birds do not need to be fed in summer. Natural foods are plentiful. Feeding geese concentrates birds near roads, where they become a traffic hazard, and makes them so tame that they are increasingly difficult to haze at airports, where they pose a threat to airplanes.
The simplest method involves frightening or hazing geese. In some cases, repeatedly and vigorously chasing geese from your property while armed with a broom or water hose will cause the geese to relocate. Hazing is most effective when the geese first arrive. When geese are molting and flightless, hazing is less effective than temporary barrier fencing. A permit is not required to scare, repel, or herd geese to protect your property, provided no attempt is made to confine, injure, or kill the birds.
Noise-making scare devices, usually a type of pyrotechnics, can sometimes be used to haze geese from your property. These include bangers and screamers fired from a special launcher or cracker shells discharged from a 12-gauge shotgun. Firecrackers are also effective. However, noisemakers are often offensive to neighbors, and pyrotechnics are prohibited in Anchorage. You may be able to get a waiver from the municipality under certain circumstances. Use pyrotechnics only as directed by manufacturers' instructions and safety precautions.
Some golf courses have successfully hazed geese using highly trained border collies with skilled handlers to repeatedly chase geese from fairways and greens, forcing the birds to relocate. At homes, confined or chained dogs are not effective deterrents because geese quickly learn that the threat is limited. Free-running dogs are not popular with neighbors and are prohibited by the municipality's leash law. However, dogs confined to a yard by an electronic invisible fence may be useful in some situations. A dog must be carefully trained for the invisible fence to work properly. A dog may also be temporarily secured to an overhead cable oriented along the shoreline. Careful selection and training of a dog motivated to chase geese is necessary to ensure success. Dogs cannot be allowed to catch or harm geese.
Bird Scare Tape and Balloons
Bird scare tape or bird flash tape is a short-term or emergency tactic to reduce problems from geese walking onto your yard. Bird scare tape is most effective with small numbers of geese that have other mowed grass areas they can move to. Bird scare tape is not effective if geese are flying into your yard.
Bird scare tape is a thin, shiny ribbon of mylar about ½ inch wide. It is silver on one side and colored, usually red, on the other. When properly used, the tape flashes in the sun and rattles in the breeze. The flashing and rattling frighten geese.
Use bird scare tape as illustrated in Figures 1 and 2. Inspect and repair the tape daily. Pets, people, wind, and wildlife can break the tape. A broken bird scare tape fence is not effective. Locate the tape where it is visible to the geese. The fence should be long enough so geese cannot walk around it into the yard.
Red, white or yellow helium balloons, 24 inches in diameter, can be temporarily effective. Geese do not like to walk under objects, so balloons keep them off lawns. Draw a large, colored spot on 3 sides of the balloons (suggesting eyes). Tether each balloon on a 75-pound-test monofilament fishing line so that it rises at least 20 feet into the air. Locate the balloons where the wind will not tangle them in shrubs, trees, or wires. Two balloons for an average-sized yard should be enough. Moving the balloons' anchors daily and using other scare tactics at the same time will enhance their effectiveness. This is a short-term solution.
Two Canada goose repellents, Turf Shield® and ReJex-iT® AG-36, are registered for turf and lawns in Alaska. The active ingredient, methyl anthranilate, is made from natural, biodegradable, food-grade ingredients, and is not toxic to humans, dogs, cats, or birds. Methyl anthranilate must be carefully applied to be effective. Failure to properly apply it may not decrease goose problems, or may burn grass or injure fish.
For best results:
- Carefully read and follow label and technical directions.
- If geese have used your lawn in the past, apply before you anticipate their return.
- Apply only to dry and freshly mowed turf or grass.
- Apply when temperature is above 45° F.
- Apply in full sunlight.
- Allow 3–4 hours of drying time.
- Use a sticker/spreader (available at your local garden store).
- Application may have to be repeated if rain occurs within 24 hours.
- Repeat application every 3-4 days as needed (less often with Turf Shield®).
For shoreline property, while geese are molting, apply repellent to a mowed strip (25 feet wide) near the lake across the entire width of the yard.
Obviously, it may be difficult to apply methyl anthranilate under optimal conditions in Alaska. In fact, it has not been extensively tested under Alaskan conditions. In addition, the repellents are fairly expensive.
Electric fencing can effectively and practically reduce goose grazing on your yard. It is useful in situations more severe than hazing or bird scare tape can handle. It is most useful in small yards or during the molt, when geese are flightless. Most homeowners prefer portable fencing that can be set up in 1-2 hours and quickly taken down for storage when not in use.
Title 15 of Anchorage's municipal code prohibits electric fencing in situations where the public is likely to come in contact with it. Therefore, electric fences can only be used adjacent to ponds or lakes where barrier fences block human access along the property lines. Only temporary fences are allowed within 25 feet of a lake. Electric fencing may be prohibited by zoning or subdivision covenants.
Key components of an electric fence for geese are:
- Energizer--The energizer is the power source for the fence. Energizers can be battery-powered or 120 volt. Low impedanceenergizers which deliver a short electrical pulse of at least 4,000 volts once every second are safe and effective.
- Fence wires--Most homeowners prefer the ease of using polytape. Polytape is a 1/2-inch-wide material consisting of polyethylene fibers interwoven with conductive wires (preferably 5 or more strands of stainless steel) to carry the electrical charge. Stretch two strands 8 inches and 18 inches above the ground (see Figure 3). Tighten wire to remove visible sag. Connect fence wires to the fence terminal on the energizer.
- Grounding system--The grounding systemis a series of three 6-foot galvanized steel rods driven into the earth at 12-foot intervals. Connect the rods in sequence using steel wire and connect the series to the ground terminal on the energizer.
- Voltmeter--A voltmeter is a device used to measure voltage on an electric fence. A voltmeter is essential to ensure that the system is working properly and to pinpoint problems when they occur.
When a goose touches an energized fence, the electric pulse passes from the energizer through the fence wire, through the goose, into the earth, to the grounding system, and back to the energizer (see Figure 3). The result is an uncomfortable, but harmless, shock that geese learn to avoid.
Electric fencing must be properly constructed and maintained to be effective. Make the fence long enough so geese won't walk around it (see Figure 2). Measure voltage weekly and keep fence wires clear of vegetation. Install electric-fence warning signs at least every 20 feet. The fence will also shock people (including children) and pets. Follow the operating instructions.
Barrier fencing is a very effective method for excluding walking geese from your yard. This method consists of placing a physical barrier that geese cannot pass through between the water and the area you want to protect (see Figure 2).
Barrier fences can be constructed from woven wire, chicken wire, plastic construction fence, corn cribbing, chainlink, netting, wood, or boulders. An effective barrier fence for walking Canada geese uses durable material with openings no larger than 3 inches by 3 inches that is at least 24 inches high.
Before you build any fence, check local ordinances and subdivision covenants. Anchorage municipal code prohibits building a permanent fence within 25 feet of a lake. However, low fences may also be a temporary solution when geese have young or are molting. For example, 5 strands of 20-pound-test monofilament fishing line, strung at 4, 8, 12, 18, and 24 inches above the ground will exclude walking geese. Flag the lines to warn people, and expect pets and wildlife to knock them awry.
Another version of barrier fencing is also effective in some circumstances when the geese are flightless. Rather than leaving a smooth gradient that allows geese to walk from lake to lawn, a vertical step at the water's edge can discourage goose access. The step should rise at least 18 inches above the normal summer water level. It will lose its effectiveness if the water level rises.
Landscaping your property to make it less attractive to Canada geese and their broods is considered the most effective long-term and environmentally sound method of reducing goose problems to individual yards and lawns. Canada geese avoid feeding and loafing in areas where plants obstruct their view of the surrounding area. Temporary measures such as fences or repellents may be necessary to keep geese from your yard until landscaping is established.
Canada geese prefer to eat short, fertilized grass. Reducing mowing, fertilizer, watering, or lawn area may cause geese to feed elsewhere. Planting trees or dense shrubs may also make your lawn less attractive to geese.
A hedge near the water with a gate to allow human access can be decorative as well as effective at reducing goose access to your lawns (see Figure 4). The hedge should be at least 30 inches tall and must be dense enough to exclude geese. Check with your local nursery or greenhouse for shrubs that will work in your yard.
Leave (or plant) a dense strip of naturally occurring trees and shrubs (20-30 feet wide) along the shoreline. A narrow (3-4 feet wide) S-shaped footpath can provide access to the lake (see Figure 5).
An unmowed shoreline buffer of native grasses (e.g., Calamagrostis) and wild flowers that grow 20-30 inches tall in a strip 20-30 feet wide along the shoreline can discourage goose visits. Native grasses generally remain standing even after winter snows have compacted most other grasses. Use a mowed S-shaped footpath (3-4 feet wide) to provide access from your yard to the shoreline.
The main drawback of the methods discussed in this brochure is that they merely cause geese to move to another property. As goose populations increase, they eventually create a larger demand for habitat. This demand causes geese to become increasingly resistant to hazing techniques.
In addition to homeowner problems, the growing population of Canada geese poses a significant risk to aircraft safety at local airports. Large numbers of geese are more difficult (and therefore more costly) to haze, and geese made tame by hand-feeding are even more difficult to haze.
Hunting is the most cost-effective and publicly accepted way to control goose populations. The cost is not borne by government funds, but is distributed among hunters who are willing to buy a license and waterfowl stamps and to pay excise taxes on equipment and other fees for the privilege of hunting waterfowl. Geese are currently hunted in the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. Hunting in carefully selected urban areas must be strictly regulated to ensure public safety and occur only with the permission of public and private landowners.
Local Sources of Supplies
Invisible dog fences, bird scare tape, barrier fencing, and electric fence supplies are available from most garden supply stores.
Methyl anthranilate is available from:
Bird Shield Repellent Corp.
P.O. Box 785
Pullman, WA 99163
Tel. 509-332-1989 (Turf Shield®)