Science Beats Geese At Their Own Game
What’s the best way to flush unwanted Canada geese from golf courses, campuses, ponds, rural airfields, bike paths and city parks? Most operations officers and maintenance directors already know the litany of possible cures: bells, whistles, balloons, vinyl alligators, pop-guns, owl decoys, metallic flash tape, hound dogs and human chasers—or even motorized toy boats circling on water. Some work. Briefly. But Canada geese are territorial, and they are creatures of habit. Their natural instinct is to return to their favorite haunts hours or minutes later.
An Old Problem Expanded
Until recently, everybody loved Canada geese, with their distinctive, majestic markings in black, white and gray. In flight, they’re elegant; on land, they’re regal and decorous. In the wild, Canada geese are indeed a magnificent sight. But something happened when the geese introduced themselves to populated civilization—particularly in manmade domains with large tracts of open land dotted with delightful wading pools and other enticing water features. It was as if real estate developers knew exactly what geese like and so built to suit those preferences.
Geese and humans don’t mix well when sharing the same space for active use. Remember, a pound and a quarter of droppings are deposited per day per goose! And that’s just for starters. Geese are aggressive animals, especially when nesting and raising goslings. They are fully capable of defending their territory by attacking human intruders.
Whose Lifestyle Is It, Anyway?
Research indicates that the goose population is expanding into areas of human habitation at a tremendous rate—a geometric progression of reproduction year after year. A few geese on the lawn are beautiful and decorative; a hundred geese rapidly become a major encroachment on domestic landscapes. Vast numbers change everything. And those numbers are rising in places like Oklahoma and Ohio that never had geese in volume before. The number of Canada geese in Ohio increased from 20 birds introduced in 1956 to about 140,000 birds in 2002. The problem has become too large to overlook.
The Goose Doctor Does His Thing
Meet Dr. Philip C. Whitford, who holds a Ph.D. in biological sciences in the field of animal behavior and B.S. and M.S. degrees in wildlife management. As Professor of Biology at Capital University in Columbus, OH, Dr. Whitford has been studying goose behavior and vocal communication for decades. He knows intimately their habits, habitats, likes and dislikes; and his doctoral thesis centered on communications of the birds, including their alert and alarm calls.
Dr. Whitford found that geese recognize and respond instinctively to ‘alert’ calls signifying uneasiness about potential threats and ‘alarm’ calls indicating immediate danger. Reacting to either call, they evacuate without waiting to identify the source. He earned his nickname, “Dr. Goose,” while amassing a vast collection of goose calls tape-recorded in the wild for analysis and interpretation and, ultimately, for control through behavioral modification.
Academic theory and real-life practice were put to the test when Professor Whitford learned of a serious goose problem at a park in Ohio, just 90 miles from campus. The maintenance crew at the park battled an infestation of Canada geese, including some that attacked visitors.
Whitford teamed with Bird-X, Inc. of Chicago, a manufacturer of bird control devices, to build a machine that would beat the geese at their own game: recycling their distress calls and re-broadcasting them electronically to roust them from otherwise comfortable settings. Working with the company, Dr. Whitford digitized the birds’ natural alarm and alert calls so they could be played back through a series of speakers at random intervals and at varying volumes, sequences and frequencies.
According to Bird-X’s president Ron Schwarcz, “Dr. Whitford contacted us, having heard we made similar machines to scare pigeons, gulls, sparrows, starlings and more with natural distress cries.”
Whitford requested Bird-X’s help to get his raw recorded data to the point where it could be used in the field.
And the world got a new, low-technology machine, the GooseBuster. Behind that comical, trademarked name lurks serious science.
Where Theory Meets Practice
The random selection, duration, and alternation programmed into the GooseBuster system is designed to un-settle the geese, to keep them on guard, making it difficult for them to accommodate comfortably to the area.
During a field test, “We deliberately picked the worst-case scenario in terms of timing,” says Dr. Whitford. “It was the beginning of nesting season, when the territorial imperative was at its height.” Two Chesapeake Bay retrievers, Stormy and Misty, were brought along for impromptu goose chasing. The combination of Goose-Buster, the pair of retrievers, and the human harassment was dynamite.
As Whitford reports, within 10 days of using Goose-Buster and harassment techniques, the ‘Before’ average of 297 goose droppings per 100 meters of sidewalk fell to less than 6 after GooseBuster came on the scene.
Also, the earlier 32 reports of goose aggression against employees per year dropped to zero. Furthermore, he says, the facility no longer needs two cleaning shifts per day to remove the fecal material.
“The park is way ahead in terms of cost, cleanliness and a healthier environment,” Dr. Whitford concludes. In addition, the park reduced the external noise level and got its soccer field back into playing condition. Whitford is quick to note that not a single goose was harmed in the process.
For more information on GooseBuster, visit: www.bird-x.com.