Radnor may try swans to get rid of geese

Could mute swans get rid of the Canada geese that foul Radnor's fields, lakes, and lawns?
Could mute swans get rid of the Canada geese that foul Radnor's fields, lakes, and lawns? (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 21, 2013

The problem is so bad in Radnor Township that one of the ball fields has been dubbed "Goose Poop Field."

As they have all over the region, geese have been fouling the fields, lakes, parks, and grassy lawns of housing developments in the wealthy Delaware County community, prompting residents to request action.

Radnor officials say they may have a partial solution to the "rodents with wings": mute swans.

The township is considering deploying the swans at the Willows Park, a 47-acre former estate off Darby-Paoli Road.

A memo from Stephen F. Norcini, director of public works, concluded that the swans, known to act aggressively toward other winged creatures, were "a reliable way to control a pond's Canadian goose population around the clock."

Actually, they are Canada geese. Not that they have to pass through customs; they are members of the nonmigratory species Branta canadensis maxima.

Norcini did not return calls seeking comment.

The memo proposed to purchase two of the graceful white birds from a breeder near Harrisburg for $1,000 and build a $500 island at the pond at the park. The swans also would "add beauty and excitement" to the area, the memo said.

"Noooo, bad idea," said Barbara Avers, a waterfowl and wetland specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, where swans have proved to be a growing threat to native animals, habitat, and people.

She said the township might be trading one problem for another. As Michigan's population of the white swans increased, so did the complaints.

Avers said the swans will feed on vegetation important for native species and can quickly alter the wetlands ecosystem, affecting native birds, fish, frogs, and turtles.

Mute swans are nonnative, invasive, and extremely aggressive to people, Avers said, especially when guarding their nests or young.

Myriad swan attacks appear on YouTube, including one that shows a bride trying to flee with an irate swan firmly attached to the back of her dress. (see video below)

In April 2012 an Illinois man working for a company that used the birds to deter geese drowned after he was attacked by a pair of nesting swans when his kayak toppled.

Last year, Pennsylvania's goose population was estimated at 220,000 and growing, along with droppings.

"We created our own problem," said John Dunn, chief of game management for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

In the 1930s, nonmigratory "giant" Canada geese - native to Indiana and Illinois - were introduced to Pennsylvania for hunting and to bolster the dwindling migratory flocks, Dunn said.

Humane methods for goose control include loud noises, installing cutouts or blowups of natural predators, applying repellents to lawns, and nest and egg destruction. Landscape techniques have been effective: Geese love short well-kept lawns, but shy away from long grassy areas where they can't see.

Another option is the border collie.

"We are crazy busy," said Brandon Schaaf of Langhorne-based Geese Management. "This always works."

The company employs 17 border collies that chase birds in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. "They want to herd, not hurt," Schaaf said.

Schaaf said he had contracts with about 20 locations where swans and geese coexisting on the sites.

As for using swans for goose control, Elaine Schaefer, president of the Radnor Board of Commissioners, said she was unaware of problems. While the memo outlined the pros of using the birds, she said more study and public comment were needed.


Contact Mari A. Schaefer at 610-313-8111, mschaefer@phillynews.com or @MariSchaefer on Twitter.

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