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Geese have become a nuisance in Ellicott Creek Park in the Town of Tonawanda.
Derek Gee / Buffalo News

Honk if you disapprove of goose droppings

By Dan Herbeck
News Staff Reporter
Updated: June 11, 2010, 11:25 am /
Published: June 11, 2010, 6:54 am

A flock of Canada geese, soaring in a V formation high above, can be a majestic sight.

On the ground, the same geese waddling and honking as they deposit their feces on golf courses, picnic areas and the lawns of homes are not nearly so majestic.

Geese are beautiful, interesting birds, but they cause a lot of problems,” said Bryan L. Swift, a waterfowl specialist who is the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s leading expert on the issue.

Those problems are painfully obvious in many locations this spring.

In Ellicott Creek Park and other Erie County parks, geese have soiled picnic areas, playgrounds, baseball diamonds and soccer fields. They have even caused traffic jams while crossing roads near the parks.

On Grand Island’s shoreline, some homeowners lie awake at night because of the incessant honking of geese.

And at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, workers chase geese away from the runways because of the birds’ potential for causing airliner crashes.

The nuisance is growing with New York’s goose population. The state’s current resident goose population is estimated at 250,000 — more than double 21 years ago, when the state began compiling population surveys.

At least 10 percent of the state’s geese — about 25,000 — live in Western New York, the DEC says.

The goose population is nearly three times what the DEC considers a “socially and environmentally acceptable” number — 85,000.

“They’re all over the place — near businesses, schools, universities, parks, golf courses — you name it,” said Craig Cygan of the Town of Boston, whose business, Borders on Patrol, uses border collies to chase geese. “I’ve been really busy this spring.”

“It’s a constant problem,” said James Hornung Sr., Erie County parks and recreation commissioner. “We try to deal with it as best we can. But when you chase the geese away, they always come back.”

Like most of the people interviewed for this story, Hornung has no problem with the geese themselves.

The problem is what comes out of the back end of a goose after it has eaten. And geese eat a lot.

An adult goose can produce a half-pound to a pound of droppings each day, according to DEC officials and other experts.

Both the state and federal governments have taken steps to decrease the goose population in recent years. Mainly, they have allowed hunters, farmers and others whose properties were damaged by geese to kill more of the birds.

Hunting seasons and kill limits have been extended by the state. During the September goose-hunting season, hunters can now kill up to eight geese a day, up from the previous limit of five.

It is now easier for farmers and other landowners to get “nuisance permits” to kill geese that eat crops or cause other problems on their property.

And landowners are allowed to keep the goose population down by destroying goose eggs in their nests, either by putting corn oil on the eggs or poking holes in the shells.

The DEC estimates that hunters now kill about 100,000 geese each year in the state, but the goose numbers keep rising.

Geese patterns have changed over the years.

Resident geese are those that live in the state year-round, although some do migrate to warmer climates during unusually harsh winters, the DEC’s Swift said.

Jerry Donovan, who lives with his family in a beautiful shoreline home on Oak Harbor Drive on Grand Island, wishes the geese that live nearby would go away for the winter.

“That’s where they spend the winter,” Donovan said, pointing to a dock about 100 yards away from his backyard overlooking the Niagara River. “We hear too many of them in the winter here. Believe me, it bothers your sleep a lot, all the honking.”

Donovan knows one Grand Island man who uses firecrackers to try to chase the geese away, but he said he and his family have learned to live with the problem.

“One of the attractions of living out here is all the beautiful wildlife,” the homeowner said. “I just wish the geese would obey the town noise ordinances.”

A similar view is taken by Rick and Nancy Milleville, who live in the Town of Tonawanda, just across Ellicott Creek Road from Ellicott Creek Park, a popular geese habitat.

“A few days ago, there were about 100 of them on the lawn by our mailbox,” said Rick Milleville. “We find goose poop in the entrance to our driveway all the time.”

It is not unusual to see a couple of adult geese leading a dozen or more fluffy goslings across Ellicott Creek Road, the couple said.

That is a cute sight, but it has caused many traffic jams, often stopping cars for five minutes or more.

“Some drivers get very angry about it,” Nancy Milleville said.

And there is the problem of walking through the park.

“You really have to watch where you are stepping, because the droppings are everywhere,” she said.

Cygan, of Boston, said he had a frantic call last week from an Amherst business owner who told him that “Canada geese are mugging my employees and customers!”

“The geese were trying to protect a nest” near the businessman’s parking lot, and they were getting up on cars and other vehicles in the lot, Cygan said.

A goose can live as long as 20 years, and a female can produce more than 50 young over her lifetime, the DEC said. Geese mate for life, but if one member of a pair dies, the survivor will find a new mate.

Geese really create headaches for the region’s golf courses, but some have found ways to deal with the problem.

Goose droppings used to be a major source of complaints at the Beaver Island State Park Golf Course and at the two Town of Tonawanda courses, Brighton and Sheridan.

Thousands of geese used to live on the Beaver Island course, but now the number is estimated at about 200, according to John S. McGinty, the golf course manager, and Fred C. Myers, his maintenance supervisor.

“Constant harassment of the birds is what works,” said John S. McGinty, the golf course manager. McGinty has government permits to kill geese on the course, but he rarely does.

Beaver Island employees always chase geese from greens and fairways, and McGinty uses a gun, similar to a starter’s pistol, to scatter the birds. He also uses his golden retriever, Emma, to chase them.

But at times, goose droppings have been a problem at Beaver Island’s sand beach and its picnic areas.

Geese are rarely a problem on the two Tonawanda courses, thanks to a pair of border collies that the town purchased about five years ago. The dogs, Topper and Mo, are owned by Jeff Rainey, who manages both courses, and his assistant, Shannon Greco.

“The dogs do a fabulous job. They have a natural instinct to herd birds from one place to another. Geese don’t like it,” Rainey said.

At Buffalo Niagara International Airport, the issue is a much more serious concern.

On Jan. 15, 2009, a commercial airliner with 155 people aboard made a dangerous splash landing in the Hudson River after it collided with a flock of geese near LaGuardia Airport in New York City.

Air cannons and starter guns are used to scare off the birds, said C. Douglas Hartmayer, spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.