Handbook for managing canada geese and cackling geese in southern Canada

Table of Contents

Canadian Wildlife Service
Environment Canada

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1. About this Handbook

This handbook is intended for people concerned with the management of Canada and Cackling Geese in southern Canada. Areas of concern include farmlands, airports, urban parks, golf courses, schools, cemeteries and residential properties, especially those near wetland areas. The handbook provides general information about Canada and Cackling Geese in Canada and outlines appropriate preventive and deterrent techniques for use in problem areas. It describes actions that can be taken by landowners to resolve conflicts with geese and indicates those which require a permit from Environment Canada. Finally, it provides contact information for users to obtain additional advice and necessary permits.

Legal Protection of Canada Geese:

Canada Geese and Cackling Geese are migratory birds that are protected under Canadian law by the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, which prohibits killing or capturing the birds or damaging, destroying, removing, or disturbing their nests, except as provided for under the Migratory Birds Regulations.

Environment Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service is the federal agency responsible for overseeing implementation of this legislation. The Canadian Wildlife Service can provide expert advice and issue permits to authorize otherwise prohibited activities if migratory birds are causing or are about to cause serious damage or danger.

2. Introduction

Canada Geese and their smaller cousins Cackling Geese are similar in appearance, and may be indistinguishable to most observers unless observed side by side. Cackling Geese and some populations of Canada Geese nest in subarctic and arctic Canada and spend the winter in the United States; they are present in southern Canada only during spring and fall migration. However, other populations of Canada Geese nest in southern Canada and may be present there throughout the year. Hereafter, the term Canada Geese will often be used to refer to both Canada and Cackling Geese and the term “temperate-breeding” Canada Geese will refer to geese that nest and raise their young in the temperate climatic zone of southern Canada.

Canada Geese are among the most familiar birds to Canadians. The V-shaped flight formation of migrating flocks is one of the most easily recognized sights signifying the change of seasons. Although Canada Geese provide an appreciated opportunity for wildlife viewing, they have caused conflicts with humans in some areas.

Bernaches du Canada avec leurs oisons dans un parc urbain

Photo: Jack Hughes © Environment Canada 2010

Canada Geese in a golf course

Photo: Jack Hughes © Environment Canada 2010

Geese are herbivores, feeding almost exclusively on plants and they prefer open terrain with good visibility and space to fly.  For these reasons, most geese are attracted to agricultural crops, either young crop plants in spring or waste grains in fall and winter. Canada Geese in particular are also attracted to lawns, particularly those near water. These two features, lawns and water, are key components of many urban and suburban landscapes. This attraction to lawns near open water, shared by geese and humans, leads to conflict. Well-kept lawns, golf courses and city parks provide excellent goose habitat for feeding, raising young, moulting and resting. Once geese have nested successfully, encouraging them to leave an area can be difficult, and their numbers tend to increase in future years.

Canada Geese cause a variety of problems. In summer, temperate-breeding Canada Geese can damage grass and other plants, compress or erode soil in parks, golf courses and other green spaces. Goose droppings can foul footpaths, docks, beaches and lawns, and may contribute to contamination of nearby water with parasites and coliform bacteria. Geese with nests or young can be aggressive towards humans or pets.

Temperate-breeding Canada Geese may also cause crop damage and noise disturbance; however, more often it is the large migrating flocks of northern breeding geese that are responsible for these problems. Goose problems are accentuated in farming areas near towns and cities where municipal bylaws prevent the discharge of firearms for scaring or hunting geese. Similarly, any habitat features (water bodies or food sources such as crops or lawns) that attract geese to sensitive areas such as airports or beaches can increase the risk of damage or danger.

Landowners who object to the presence of Canada Geese can use several techniques to deter geese from their land. However, it is important to understand their biology to determine the appropriate timing of these deterrents or to design effective habitat modification. Therefore, this handbook presents the life cycle of temperate-breeding and northern-breeding Canada Geese, to help understand their use of habitat in urban, suburban and agricultural areas, and outlines appropriate preventive and deterrent techniques.

Effective management of Canada Geese requires cooperation between land use agencies under various jurisdictions, including federal and provincial wildlife agencies, parks and recreation boards, local and regional governments, airport authorities, farmers, and owners of large properties such as golf courses. Collaboration among all interest groups is critical to the success of any attempt to manage Canada Geese to avoid conflicts in southern Canada.

Bernaches du Canada dans un champ agricole

Photo: Jack Hughes © Environment Canada 2010

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