ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Department of Natural Resources released its 2013 midwinter waterfowl survey last week, showing the Canada goose population has increased by more than 25 percent since last year.
Canada geese comprise more than half of the total population of waterfowl in Maryland.
“The goose population is greater than the ecosystem can handle,” Julie Lawson, spokesperson for the Anacostia Watershed Society, said.
“We have been getting calls from people about seeing geese in places they don’t normally,” Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles of the National Park Service said.
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If you hear loud honking sounds coming from a V-shaped formation in the sky, it’s likely you’ve spotted a flock of Canada geese.
There are two types: migratory and resident. The resident geese that can be seen in Maryland year round have the most impact on the local environment.
Scientists say the geese are attracted to the short, manicured lawns found in urban and suburban environments, which provide them with an ideal food source.
Anzelmo-Sarles said the two biggest factors leading to an increase in the resident Canada geese population are, “a lack of natural predation and an abundance of food sources.”
“Part of the problem is they don’t have high mortality rates. They live for 15, 20, 25 years and are quite productive during that time,” Larry Hindman, waterfowl project manager at DNR, said.
According to the DNR, a goose can produce up to one pound of droppings per day.
“The geese defecate in and near the water…The geese are contributing to the nutrient problem in the water,” Doug Redmond, Aquatic Ecologist at Montgomery County Department of Parks, said.
Fecal bacteria is one of the major sources of pollution in the local watershed. The result of excess nutrients in the water creates algal blooms leading to the death of plants and fish.
A Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission report of Sligo Creek shows 80-100 percent of fecal bacteria found in the water was from animal waste, with the majority coming from birds and aquatic birds.
Canada geese eat grass, which has caused wetland destruction, Hindman said.
According to the Anacostia Watershed Society, the wetlands are a vital part of the watershed ecosystem – filtering pollutants and providing a habitat for wildlife.
Rob Gibbs, natural resources manager at Montgomery County Department of Parks, says there are different methods to keep the population under control.
“People who have problems with geese can destroy their nest and eggs by applying for a permit,” Gibbs said.
Montgomery County Department of Parks rubs oil on eggs to stop them from developing, Gibbs says.
Egg oiling or addling is a technique used to stop the embryo from developing. Rather than removing the eggs from the nest, you leave them, and the goose will continue to sit on the eggs until nesting season is over, the DNR says.
The permit can be obtained through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“If people have problems with droppings and feathers they can use hazing techniques,” Gibbs said.
Some people use dogs like border collies to chase the geese away, but this method is more expensive, he said.
While Canada geese are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, they are allowed to be hunted during hunting season.