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Research and Management of Resident Canada Geese

By: Ted Nichols, Principal Biologist and Paul M. Castelli, Research Scientist II, NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife and Katherine Guerena, Graduate Student, University of Delaware.

On a mild summer morning, a wildlife photographer paddles into the headwaters of a New Jersey lake hopeful for a chance at some memorable shots. As she rounds a bend in the creek, a Canada goose brood resting on a mossy hummock provides for an exceptional photo that she will use to adorn her den. Meanwhile, across town, a zealous linebacker tackles a high school football fullback during a grueling practice session. The fullback stands and looks with disgust at his now green-stained, white jersey and uses his fingers to flick away the goose feces that are wedged in his helmet’s facemask. Love them or hate them, resident Canada geese have expanded their population in recent decades resulting in mixed impacts on humans who share the land with these stately birds.

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The opportunity to observe, study and hunt resident Canada geese has been a positive aspect of their increase; however, nuisance and damage problems have developed. Understanding the population dynamics of resident Canada geese is critical to properly manage this species. To accomplish this, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife researchers and other collaborators are designing a comprehensive population model that will incorporate information on productivity, annual survival, movement, harvest, population control and other demographic factors. The ultimate use of such a population model is to understand how the various factors affect the resident Canada goose population, especially which factors are most important in limiting population growth. A comprehensive resident Canada goose population model will allow waterfowl managers to select actions most likely to meet management objectives and also predict both the outcome and the timeframe needed for any proposed action.

A key component in the development of this model is the annual production of young birds into the population, generally termed “recruitment” by biologists. Arctic-breeding, migrant Canada geese are subjected to harsh and unforgiving spring breeding season conditions. In contrast, resident geese experience relatively tranquil spring breeding conditions, allowing them ample time to produce and rear their young. Human development of urban and suburban areas throughout the state has provided both an increase in the quality and quantity of breeding habitat for resident geese, and a refuge from hunting pressures and predators. The expansion of corporate parks and recreational areas with manicured open lawns and artificial water sources has created an ideal habitat for the nesting and brood rearing of resident geese. This development has also decreased the amount of land suitable for hunter harvest, limiting the major mortality factor of these birds. Consequently, resident geese, on average, are more productive, recruit more birds into the population each year, and survive at a higher rate than their migratory counterparts.

The recruitment portion of the comprehensive population model under development will incorporate historic data collected in New Jersey during the 1980s and 1990s as well as data collected during the 2009 and 2010 breeding seasons. New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife has collaborated with the University of Delaware to conduct the most recent years study on productivity and recruitment of resident Canada geese. Researchers locate and monitor nests throughout the state to determine how many offspring are produced, and how variables such as predators and weather conditions affect nesting success. In addition, researchers perform a mark-recapture study of goslings from hatch until fledge to determine the survival of these birds during their most vulnerable life stage. Recruitment data from these studies will play a major role in completion of the resident Canada goose population model.


Canada Goose Control Information

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Although a valuable wildlife resource, resident population Canada geese still cause considerable damage. Because resident population geese are migratory birds, primary management authority lies with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) with secondary involvement at the state level. In 2007 the Service released a final rule on managing resident population Canada geese in the United States through three primary components including depredation orders, expanded hunting methods and other control methods.

Many states, including New Jersey have implemented the majority of the components allowed under Service regulations as part of an Integrated Damage Management Program (IDMP). This IDMP includes expanded Canada goose hunting opportunities such as extended hours plus the use of unplugged guns and electronic calls during September seasons as well as enabling several of the various federal depredation orders. The depredation order most useful New Jersey’s citizens is the federal Nest and Egg Depredation Order.

Landowner’s experiencing problems may obtain a free permit for removing or treating goose nests and eggs on their property between March 1 and June 30. Landowners must register for authorization to conduct this work at prior to destroying nests or eggs. Considerable flexibility is allowed regarding whom and on which types of properties the work may be done; check the Frequently Asked Questions tab on the Web site for further information. Detailed information on treating nests and eggs is found on the registration Web site by clicking the Management of Canada Goose Nesting tab.

New Jersey has also authorized the use of more specialized federal depredation orders for resident population Canada geese which includes airports, agricultural interests, and locations affecting public health or safety. Additional information on these specialized depredation orders is at Click on Canada Goose Control Information.

Non-lethal control also plays an important role in any integrated damage management program for Canada geese. Non-lethal alternatives—including habitat modification, harassment techniques (i.e., scare devices, dogs, pyrotechnics) and implementing “no feeding” policies—can be used at any time. A synopsis of non-lethal techniques is found at:
or by calling the U.S. Department of Agriculture—Wildlife Services (USDA-WS) at (866) 4-USDA-WS.

The Service also allows the continued use of depredation permits, a more aggressive control (i.e., capture/removal, shooting) of geese in damage situations. In addition, depredation permits enable the management of Canada geese during seasons of the year when other populations (i.e., migrants) of Canada geese are present. Depredation permit applicants must first demonstrate that non-lethal methods were previously attempted and will continue to be used along with the requested lethal methods. For Service permit applications, go to The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture -Wildlife Services can assistance with the permitting process by calling (866) 4-USDA-WS.


Photo: Trevor Watts/NJ Div. Fish and Wildlife


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