Geese at the Government Center--Will They Leave?

(Conservation Currents, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District)

At one time resident Canada geese populated the pond area behind the Government Center’s main building. After beavers removed most of the trees from the pond edges, increased sunlight allowed a proliferation of weeds and brush to grow around the pond. Predators of geese—such as foxes and raccoon—may use this type of habitat for hunting, which discourages geese from settling near it.

In contrast, the Herrity Building pond and decorative fountain provided ideal conditions for geese. Manicured grassy open space adjacent to the water provided a constant source of food. Eroded banks with little vegetation gave the geese easy access in and out of the water.

To further entice the geese, some visitors to the three-building Government Center complex tossed food in the pond. Feeding bread and popcorn is unhealthy for ducks and geese, makes them dependent on humans, and may make them aggressive.

With easy access to water, grass, nesting sites, and supplemental food, the geese found the site irresistible, and their numbers grew to more than 100.

What’s the problem with resident geese?

Human health and safety is one concern. The potential exists for disease transmission from goose droppings in the water and on the ground. This is of particular concern at the Penino Building’s child care facility which has a playground fronting the goose habitat. Also, during the nesting season, geese can become aggressive toward people they perceive as threats to their eggs or goslings.

Herrity Building pond with algaeOf particular concern to the conservation district is the environmental impact of having too many geese in one place. Geese entering and exiting the pond and loafing along the shore cause soil compaction, which harms existing vegetation and inhibits new growth. Grazing geese denude the lawns leaving bare spots which lead to soil erosion and sedimentation of the pond and nearby streams. Stormwater runoff carries the nutrient-rich goose droppings into the water. Heavy concentrations of these goose droppings in the water leads to excessive algae growth. Decaying algae depletes the oxygen supply killing beneficial aquatic life. Geese also drive away or kill other natural inhabitants of the pond such as smaller waterfowl and wading birds.

The first step of a goose management program is to identify and limit the goose attractions in the immediate area.

The Animal Control Division of the Fairfax County Police Department, working in partnership with the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, has designed a model program that will reduce the impact of the Canada geese population on Government Center properties in a humane, effective, and innovative manner. Other partners in the program include Geese Peace, the Citizens for the Preservation of Wildlife, the Park Authority, and NVSWCD.

Since geese prefer areas where they have easy access to food, water, and nesting site, barriers can be an effective deterrent in discouraging resident geese.

The Herrity Building has been targeted as an egg addling site for the past two years. Addling refers to coating the eggs with vegetable oil within the first 10 to 14 days of being laid to prevent them from hatching. The protocol, which requires a permit, is endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States. In addition to slowing the growth of the resident geese population, addling will break the instinctual bonds of geese to remain at the Herrity Building after nesting season. When there are no goslings, the adult and juvenile geese will be more likely to leave the area once nuisance abatement programs begin.

Landscaping changes will include the addition of brushy and prickly plants which create a barrier to the water source and the use of grasses less attractive to geese (fescue, for example). Structural measures to demonstrate alternative shoreline treatments will include rip-rap, gabion baskets, and biologs.

Man and border collie on canoe in pondTrained Border collies are being used to herd geese in much the same way that they have herded farm animals for centuries. Although the dogs never touch the geese, the geese sense the Border collie is a predator and flee the area. The geese will attempt to return, but the repeated presence of the dogs will convince them that the area is unsafe. Eventually, the geese will move on to other sites.

Finally, colorful signs will remind well-meaning passersby that feeding geese and other wildlife is unhealthy for them, leads to increased aggression towards humans, and is against local regulations.

For more information about geese management, contact Vicky Monroe, Fairfax County Wildlife Biologist at 703-246-6868, TTY 711.

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