Monday, April 5, 2010

Please Don't Feed the Geese

April 1, 2010
Now that spring is here and so many people are out enjoying Richmond's parks, the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities is once again asking the public not to feed the geese in Byrd Park.

“While the Canada geese are beautiful and feeding them may be fun, it is not healthy for our parks or for the geese,” said J.R. Pope, director of the department.

Canada geese are migrating birds. Feeding them encourages them to stop migrating and leads to the domestication of these wild animals. The result of this is an overpopulation of geese in the park, which in turn causes environmental damage to the park, creates unsanitary conditions, adds pollutants to the lakes, and can result in diseased flocks that spread diseases to other animals. In addition, human food is not appropriate for the geese and in the long-term can result in deformities.

Geese that do not migrate also rapidly loose their fear of humans and can become very territorial and aggressive.

The department began using border collies to help control the goose population in Byrd Park in 2008 and has brought them back this year. The dogs are trained to target Canada geese and chase them, which encourages their migration without harming them.

“By feeding the geese, the public is undoing everything we are trying to do to keep our parks well-maintained and enjoyable to visit,” said Pope, who recommends that the public enjoy watching the geese or photographing them instead of feeding them. “Nobody wants to come to a park and wade through the goose droppings,” he said.

Canada geese are not to be confused with domestic geese and ducks. They can be identified by their long black necks. A picture of a Canada goose can be found at


· With increased urbanization over the past 25 years, the population of resident geese in the United States has increased dramatically and shows no signs of declining.

· There are an estimated 5 million resident geese in the continental US today.

· Geese typically start breeding at 3 years of age and can continue for up to 17 years. Although, geese breed just once a year, during March and April, a goose lays 2-8 eggs, called a clutch. (For every 100 birds, with half or 50 being female, this can amount to as many as 400 additional geese a year.)

· Resident geese in urban areas typically have few natural predators, such as foxes and coyotes, making it easy for them to multiply.

· The crowding of geese in concentrated areas increases their stress and susceptibility to infections and diseases, like avian cholera or avian botulism, and facilitates the rapid spread of diseases.

· Typically the human food used to feed geese (white bread, etc.) does not provide the nutrition needed for proper growth and development and over the long-term can result in deformities.

· Large concentrations of geese can harm the environment through overgrazing causing erosion and the degradation of the landscape, making it undesirable for other species and unsightly for humans.

· Each goose typically produces 1.5 pounds of droppings a day, which is not conducive to park use and can add excessive nutrients to nearby lakes and ponds resulting in water quality problems such as algae blooms.

· Geese typically adjust rapidly to urban settings and lose their “wildness.” They loose their fear of humans, cars and planes, and can become very territorial and aggressive “nuisance animals.” They can also cause traffic and safety problems.

· Short grass with water nearby is the ideal habitat for geese, which is why so many are found at airports, golf courses, office parks and city parks. With “free food” handed out, this ensures that the birds will stay.

· Geese haven’t simply “forgotten” to migrate. Migration is a learned behavior - not instinct. The birds must learn to migrate from their parents. If the adults do not migrate, each new generation also will not migrate.