BOOKS: Canada Goose Habitat Modification Manual

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2005:

Canada Goose Habitat Modification Manual
by Donald S. Heintzelman
Friends of Animals (777 Post Road, Suite 205, Darien, CT 06820),
2005. 16 pages, illus. $4.00.

“Just as world-renowned ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson
opposed mute swan egg-addling, Friends of Animals opposes addling
Canada goose eggs,” the FoA Canada Goose Habitat Modification Manual
opens. “Addling–destroying eggs by shaking, piercing, or coating
the eggs with oil–is invasive and traumatic for these famously
protective nesters.”
Many humane organizations including GeesePeace reluctantly
promote addling as at least less invasive and traumatic than killing
geese. The moral issue involved is comparable to the question of
whether or not to spay a pregnant cat or dog, when the alternative
is that more homeless cats or dogs may be killed by animal control.
In New Jersey, for instance, with 4.3 non-migratory Canada
geese per square kilometer, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
recommends that as many as 57,000 geese should be killed during the
next 10 years, to try to achieve a 40% population reduction.
Intensive egg-addling is also part of the plan.

As a crisis solution, addling works, but is certainly not a
perfect answer. At Broadmoor Lake Park in Sherwood Park, Alberta,
for instance, biologists oiled the eggs of 59 pairs of geese in May
2005. Fifty-eight pairs abandoned their dead eggs within a few
weeks, but one female who lost her mate to a car continued trying to
hatch her clutch until July, losing so much weight that her own life
was in danger.
FoA and Donald Heintzelman favor amending habitat that might
attract non-migratory Canada geese before flocks settle in. Their
basic strategy is to try to recognize potential problem areas in
advance, so as to avoid creating–or leaving intact–open expanses
of closely mowed Kentucky bluegrass.
Much of Heintzelman’s manual offers advice compatible with
the general trend in park maintenance toward natural habitat,
typically requiring much less water, labor, and expense to keep up
than the broad grassy meadows that 19th and early 20th century park
designers copied from European palace groundskeepers.
Probably half the total area of park land in the U.S. now
used by non-migratory Canada geese would be more attractive and not
less heavily used by humans if allowed to go to taller native grasses
and wildflowers.
But that leaves playing fields, golf courses, cemeteries, picnic
areas, and places where visitors might toss balls to dogs as still
potentially problematic. Relatively little that Heitzelman
recommends will keep non-migratory Canada geese away from anywhere
that has to be mowed, fertilized, irrigated, and kept wide open.
If this was my manual, I’d have added two sections.
One section would explain just who author Donald S.
Heintzelman is. Most noted for 50 years of studying hawk migration
at Bake Oven Knob in Pennsylvania, Heintzelman has witnessed the
entire Canada goose fiasco at close range, from more than 30 years
of efforts by federal and state wildlife agencies to rebuild the
goose population through breeding and introducing non-migratory
Canada geese, to the present struggle of the same agencies to bring
their numbers back down. Though not nearly as well known as the late
Roger Tory Peterson, Heintzelman is an ornithologist of similar
stature.
The other section would discuss nest predators.
Raccoons are the most aggressive, voracious, intelligent
and nimble goose nest predator in North America. Non-migratory
Canada goose populations did not abruptly rise to problematic levels
until intensive raccoon trapping to supply the fur boom of the late
1970s and early 1980s coincided with the mid-Atlantic raccoon rabies
pandemic. Wherever raccoons were depleted, non-migratory Canada
geese flocks expanded.
Coyotes, because they cannot climb, are hunter/ scavengers
more than egg thieves, but find the eggs of ground-nesting Canada
geese especially accessible. Stan Gehrt and Charles Paine of the Max
McGraw Wildlife Foundation in East Dundee, Illinois, monitored 200
non-migratory Canada goose nests in April and May 2005. More than
90% lost eggs to predators, Gehrt and Paine found; 80% of the
successful predators were coyotes. Hidden video cameras discovered
that while nesting Canada geese will try to fight off raccoons and
skunks, they retreat from coyotes, who will snatch and eat an adult
goose as readily as an egg.
Both red and grey foxes also raid goose nests.
Heintzelman says little about predators, and may not favor
encouraging predation. Yet many of his ideas amount to enabing
predators to find cover closer to areas where geese might congregate.
This works, especially if the public is educated to recognize
raccoons, coyotes, and foxes as part of the grounds crew helping to
maintain public open spaces.

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