Flights of Canada geese are filling the skies around here in numbers rarely seen.
For weeks, birders have reported seeing enormous flights of Branta canadensis — or Canada geese — all across the western part of the state.
“The fields along the Lake Ontario plain west of Braddock Bay were loaded with geese,” a bird spotter wrote on March 22 in GeneseeBirds, an e-mail newsletter sent from SUNY Geneseo.
A bird count generated by Braddock Bay Hawkwatch listed 4,250 Canada geese on March 20 — by far the highest count of any of the 46 species observed that day at the Braddock Bay Bird Observatory, on the south shore of Lake Ontario northwest of Rochester.
The March 21 count noted a whopping 5,200 Canada geese. The March 25 count was 7,600.
Populations of snow geese, too, are “growing exponentially in most parts of their ranges,” according to Cornell University’s All About Birds Web site.
Closer to home, large gaggles of both types of geese have been spotted around Canandaigua and Honeoye lakes.
“What’s going on right now is that migrant (Canada) geese that breed in the arctic and winter in New York, and as far south as Maryland and Virginia, are moving north,” said Mike Wasilco, regional wildlife manager for Region 8 of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The Finger Lakes region is a “main flyway for Canada geese,” he said — migratory populations often rest in this area waiting for the ice to thaw and the snow to melt off fields farther north before they return to their summer homes.
The presence of migratory Canada geese isn’t the only factor boosting local geese populations. There’s also a hearty, growing population of geese who live here year-round, said Wasilco.
According to the DEC Web site, the year-round resident New York goose population is about 200,000. That number grew from just a few Canada geese released in the early 1900s by people in Hudson Valley and on Long Island. Additional game-farm geese were released in wildlife management areas north and west of Albany during the 1950s and 1960s.
“The resident goose population has been building for years,” said Wasilco.
Although visually stunning in large groups, Canada geese are seen by some as a nuisance species; they can be aggressive when defending their nesting areas, they sometimes over-graze lawns and they are known to festoon shorelines and docks with their droppings and feathers.
Those droppings have the potential, though minimal, to cause disease. Wasilco said there have been “limited cases” where goose droppings were found to carry high levels of E. coli, but that “it is generally not a form of the bacteria that is harmful to humans.”
The DEC relies on two primary methods to manage the goose population — hunting and disrupting the incubation of eggs.
The regular goose-hunting season, held in November, targets resident and migratory geese. An early season in September targets just resident geese, since the migratory birds haven’t come through yet.
This year, for the first time, the DEC opened an additional season for goose hunting (from March 1 to 10), but only in the Southern Tier, where the overwhelming majority of Canada geese are residents rather than migratory birds.
All Canada geese are protected by federal and state regulations, but those regulations are more strict for migratory birds, since they cross state lines and other jurisdictions, said Wasilco. The Southern Tier was judged to be a good place to open hunting, since the brunt of its geese are the more loosely protected resident birds.
In urban areas where hunting is not an option, the goose population is controlled by preventing fertilized eggs from hatching — either by coating them in corn oil, which essentially suffocates them, or by puncturing them or shaking them, a method known as “addling.”
If the addled or oil-coated eggs are left in the nest, the mother goose will continue to sit on them rather than going elsewhere to lay more eggs, said Wasilco.
Granted, it’s not a warm and fuzzy process. But according to Genesee Valley Audubon Society President June Summers, the burgeoning population of Canada geese has made population control — through hunting and egg destruction — a necessity.
“We as human beings have created this problem,” she said, referring to the original release of the birds in a habitat not their own. “Now we have to solve it.”
Dealing with foul fowl
The state lists the following suggestions for discouraging nuisance geese:
• Discontinue feeding — feeding can cause more geese to gather than an area can naturally support. Human feeding also reduces the bird’s natural fear of humans and can make the geese ill and disrupt their migration instincts.
• Allow hunting — it can slow the growth of resident goose flocks.
• Modify habitat — allow vegetation to grow to its full height around bodies of water. Geese prefer short, green grass.
• Install grid wires — suspending wire over a body of water prevents geese from taking off and landing on the water and makes the habitat unappealing to them.
• Install fencing — fencing is an effective deterrent in places where geese tend to land on the water and walk up to adjacent lawns to feed or rest.
• Use visual scaring devices, noisemakers or dogs — all will frighten the geese and make the habitat less appealing.
• Apply goose repellent — the DEC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have approved one product, ReJeXiT®, for use on lawns, but not in ponds or wetlands. A DEC permit is required to use ReJeXiT® within 100 feet of a regulated wetland.
• Control goose nesting — private individuals can destroy goose eggs on their property if they have registered to do so with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Applications are available at https://epermits.fws.gov/eRCGR.
— New York state Department of Environmental Conservation