Speaking up for those annoying Canada geese

A pair of Canada geese and their goslings glide past Barbara Spector outside her condominium at the Meadows at Washington Township. Spector says it is unethical to kill the birds.
A pair of Canada geese and their goslings glide past Barbara Spector outside her condominium at the Meadows at Washington Township. Spector says it is unethical to kill the birds. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 16, 2014

At the Meadows of Washington Township, Canada geese have made themselves quite at home, thank you.

Picturesque pairs nurture their fuzzy-wuzzy goslings on the lush lawns of the condominium community, where a lovely little lake helps make for a bit of Gloucester County goose heaven.

"We've created a habitat for them, and now we don't want them to live here," says retired teacher Barbara Spector, 64, who loves to watch the "beautiful" big birds splash down in the lake.

"It's unethical to kill living creatures [just] because they're annoying," adds the longtime animal welfare activist.

Because the Meadows has obtained a federal "depredation" permit authorizing the "capture and euthanizing" of up to 450 Canada geese, Spector is organizing a demonstration for noon Saturday at Hurffville Cross Keys and Fries Mill Roads, near the main entrance to the community.

"I want to educate people about what's going on," she says. "I'll be out there alone if I have to be."

The Meadows, a 208-unit complex of townhouses on 26 tidy acres, isn't alone, either.

The artificial landscapes of residential developments, office complexes, golf courses, and parks across New Jersey have attracted substantial populations of resident (as distinct from migratory) Canada geese. Nesting pairs particularly prefer being close to water, which provides a refuge from predators.

The geese are a problem, says John Blyzniuk, 29, a retired Marine who has lived at the Meadows for five years. "They've brought in dogs, they've done spraying, they put fencing up . . . but, come summer, you can have 30 geese in your front yard."

Data collected in 2010 by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife put the statewide resident Canada goose population at 76,190. That's a lot of large (adult geese can weigh 12 pounds), long-lived (20-year life spans are common) birds, as well as plenty of, um, bird droppings.

"Goose feces," a U.S. Department of Agriculture publication warns, "damage property, compromise overall quality of life, and have the potential to pose serious health threats due to the presence of disease-causing organisms."

The birds also are voracious grazers and leisurely street-crossers, and can be aggressive, particularly when nesting.

No wonder an abundance of companies offer to chase or otherwise police geese with dogs, balloons, laser beams, propane cannons, electronic noisemakers, repellent sprays, and pyrotechnic displays.

Some firms also will coat with oil or otherwise "addle" eggs in the nest to prevent hatching, which Spector, who took an addling class herself, supports.

Meadows management company offices did not respond to two voice mails and an e-mail Tuesday and Wednesday. An officer of the homeowners' association declined to comment when I visited his home Tuesday.

"I don't think they [the Meadows] have made a decision," says Steve Toth, chief wildlife biologist with Goose Control Technology of New Jersey, the Metuchen, Middlesex County, company that already has used a variety of nonlethal methods to control the bird population at the complex.

"We treat animals humanely," Toth says.

Geese molt and temporarily become flightless during June and July, which makes them easier to collect and transport to a commercial facility that will euthanize them, most often with anesthetic gas.

Toth says his company also performs "egg treatment" and other services, including "habitat management."

Restoring landscapes to make them more natural and less attractive to geese is the only real solution, says Susan Russell, wildlife policy director of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey.

"A landscape that's stripped of native vegetation and has turf grass, a body of water, and lots of houses is a gold-engraved invitation to geese," Russell adds.

"The point is, if you spill sugar and get ants, do you keep killing the ants - or do you clean up the sugar?"

As a longtime patron of Camden County's Newton Lake Park, I've seen gaggles of geese strip the grass down to dust and leave walkways covered with sunbaked droppings.

In other words, I'm not a big fan. But we can't blame the geese for doing what comes naturally. And we can't kill our way out of a problem we've created, either.

So if I were a Meadows homeowner, I'd hope my condo fees would pay for a mix of long-term management approaches that will enable people and geese to coexist in peace.


kriordan@phillynews.com

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

www.inquirer.com/blinq

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