Allegheny River towns battling wild geese

spectr17

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Crying fowl: Allegheny River towns among latest to battle wild geese

March 27, 2002

By Rick Nowlin, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Springdale Borough Manager April Winklmann is on a wild goose chase.

Literally.

The borough is one of a number of local communities trying to do something about the thousands of Canada geese that have taken over parks and other grassy areas the past few years.

No one seems to know how to get rid of them permanently.

The geese create two problems -- they're not only grazing on the grass but they're also leaving feces all over the place, creating a potential health hazard.

"I've worked here five years, and it's gotten progressively worse," Winklmann said.

The geese do not fear humans, she added. "They seem to have an attitude."

In Springdale Borough, the geese have camped out at the Veterans Memorial complex, which includes football and baseball fields, a dek hockey rink, tennis and basketball courts and "a brand-new playground area," Winklmann said.

Geese also have been spotted in other river towns, including Aspinwall, Blawnox, Cheswick and Emsworth, where the birds situate in open, grassy spaces near water. Winklmann said large numbers of geese also have been found in Harmar and Springdale Township.

"It's been a problem for three or four years," said Blawnox Manager Sherry Kordas. "They always seem to be around. Wildlife isn't my expertise, but we have a goose problem."

In Aspinwall, the geese were around for about a month but have since left, said Manager Ed Warchol. "I saw a whole flock when I was driving home on [Route] 28. I don't know why they decided to stop here."

Meg Scanlon, a North Park naturalist, knows.

Canada geese gravitate to "areas where there's major park land" because they feed on "short, mown, grassy areas with water nearby," she said. "They will feed on aquatic plants and insects, but their [preferred] diet is made up of grass and other small herbaceous plants."

Complicating matters is that in suburban areas, the geese have no natural predators and an abundant food supply.

"You have a greater food source to forage on than you would have in the wild," Scanlon said.

The problem isn't limited to the northern suburbs.

Canada geese, a protected species, typically spend the winters in the United States and return to arctic Canada in the summer to breed. But an estimated 3.5 million geese now live in the United States year round, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, drawn to open spaces such as park lands near ponds and streams. In Pennsylvania, the nonmigratory geese population totaled 150,000 in 1993, up from 2,400 in 1960, according to a publication from Penn State University's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Scanlon said geese have become less inclined to migrate to Canada over the years because the food supply in the United States has become more plentiful. So many people feed them, she said, that "they teach [the chicks] to beg."

Scanlon suggested ways to curb the population, such as eliminating places for the geese to nest and preventing their eggs from hatching. Some legal ways of doing so, she said, include "scrambling," shaking up the eggs; poking holes in the shell to allow bacteria to penetrate; and coating eggs with vegetable oil to keep out oxygen.

"I've never heard of any [practical] method of birth control," she said.

Springdale Borough first decided to fight the goose infestation about three years ago by applying a compound called ReJeX-It to areas where geese like to gather.

Winklmann said the substance smells like concord grapes but the geese don't like it.

"It's like putting cayenne pepper in your chili, so they don't want to eat it," Winklmann said. It works, but at $1,150 for 10 acres, it's too expensive to use regularly. Plus, it washes off in the rain, and the geese return in about a week.

Other solutions listed in the Penn State publication include limiting lawn size; allowing grass to grow higher, especially along shore lines; planting shrubs and trees; installing chicken wire; setting off air horns; and, as a last resort, shooting the geese.

The trouble with the last suggestion is that the Pennsylvania Game Commission restricts shooting to 150 yards from buildings. Plus, Pennsylvania's geese-hunting season was in February, and the next one isn't scheduled until September. Federal law prohibits killing the geese at any other time without a special permit.

Blawnox Mayor Tom Smith said the borough is looking into using licensed hunters from the local sportsmen's club to shoot geese in September. The hunters, who would be placed on 10-foot stands, would be positioned to shoot away from Center Avenue, one of the main streets. Smith said the game commission's 150-yard rule could be waived with permission from affected residents.

"There's no other way to do it," Smith said. "We'll do it according to the law."

The borough may even sponsor a goose roast, so that the meat will not be wasted, he said.

Airports, another favorite goose habitat, have hired dog handlers to use their dogs to chase away the birds before planes take off so that the geese won't accidentally fly into jet engines and sabotage flights, Scanlon said. She said herding dogs, such as border collies and Labrador retrievers, or "any dog that enjoys chasing birds" have been used.

That idea appeals to Kordas. "We're looking into bringing my dog and my assistant's dog," she said.

Springdale Borough council considered that, Winklmann said, but a veterinarian advised against it because the goose droppings might make the dogs sick. In addition, Winklmann said, "The park does prohibit dogs, and that's part of the problem."

For now, Kordas is considering a "low-tech" solution in Blawnox -- mounting black plastic bags on sticks. The flapping sound "scares the heck out of birds, especially geese," Kordas said.
 

Tim P

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The reason they (the geese) are there, is because they are not harrassed. It seems to me that if you started shooting, or otherwise killing the birds that are in unwanted areas the other geese would get the idea pretty quick.  You probably don't even need too kill them to drive them out.  
Unfortunately I understand about restricting dogs as some owners have a problem cleaning up after their animals.  That problem aside though, dogs would seem to be the best solution.
IMHO
TimP
 

KID CREOLE

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I volunteeer my services to help remove these geese free of charge.
 

Freedom

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Oh man, I know that area a little, the problem is that both sides of the river are pretty much solid buildings.  You can't shoot in any direction without shooting towards a home.  I think they'll have to resort to either using dogs or, since the geese aren't afraid of humans, maybe if you got some guys with those high powered pellet guns you could pretty much just execute them.  You could probably get close enough for humane, lethal head shots on them.  Not much sport in it, but after they see a couple dozen of their buddies bite the bullet, they'll get the hint I think.

I'll volunteer my services as well!!
 

tinner

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I'm with Kid Creole I volunteer my services for free also:moon::moon:
 


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