Curious Louis & KCUR: Why are there so many Canada geese in Missouri? | St. Louis Public Radio

Curious Louis & KCUR: Why are there so many Canada geese in Missouri?

Jan 5, 2016

You'd be amazed at how often St. Louisans' curiosities are piqued as we explore St. Louis and meet the people in our community. Or maybe you wouldn't be. We bet you're just as curious as we are. Just as curious as your neighbors who've submitted and answered questions to our Curious Louis project.

Public radio station KCUR in Kansas City recently looked into something that we thought made an excellent Curious Louis question. So, here it is: an answer to the question, "Why are there so many Canada geese in Missouri?" What makes these birds stick around instead of migrate further north?

You may have noticed — Kansas City is home to a large (and growing) population of Canada geese. You may have also noticed that they never seem to leave, and that is probably because most of them don't.

Many have lost the evolutionary instinct to migrate. And why should they migrate? Kansas City has it all: open lakes and fountains, green grass that is rarely covered in thick snow, few predators.

For geese, Kansas City is Beverly Hills.

And city officials have noticed. For the first time last year, Kansas City put money and resources behind controlling the Canada goose population.

"They have everything here and there is no reason to leave," says damage biologist Todd Meese, who works for the Missouri Department of Conservation. "And, they are long-lived, 10-24 years, because there is no pressure on them. There are basically no predators except for us."

To migrate, or not to migrate

Meese says Canada geese lost the instinct to migrate primarily because of development and changing agricultural practices.

Each fall around this time of year, geese who do still migrate will come to Kansas City for the winter. They get comfy and mate.

"The migrating geese will in-breed with the non-migrators, and then whenever they have young the young will imprint here," says Meese. "So, two geese can end up with 50 geese in five years."

That's a lot of geese. And a lot of geese make a lot of poop.

"A goose is said to defecate every seven minutes. So wherever there is a large group, every seven minutes there is a new pile on the ground and people are walking in it," Meese says.

And goose poop is pretty nasty. It carries coliform bacteria and E. coli.

"Some pretty nasty stuff that kids at parks don't need to be picking up and investigating," says Dave Swickard.

Dave Swickard and his dog, Gail, redirected geese from Loose Park and other public spaces in Kansas City.
Credit Briana O'Higgins / KCUR 89.3

Swickard owns Geese Police of Kansas City. He and his border collie, Gail, can rid your property of geese (and their poop) in a matter of weeks.

No, not by killing them.

You can hunt geese during goose season in Missouri (the day after Thanksgiving until Jan. 31), but many cities and towns don't allow it.

Kicking out the geese

Last year, Kansas City, Missouri, hired Swickard and Gail to redirect geese from public spaces like Loose Park and J.C. Nichols Fountain.

"What's different about a border collie than any other dog is the fact that their stalking mechanism is not a chase behavior — so, their head's down, their tails shot between their legs, and they're not barking and chasing," says Swickard. "We have more of a controlled stalk. Now, they do sometimes if the geese are in certain areas, they will run after them, but not before they have stalked them."

Across the street from KCUR 89.3 headquarters, there is a small lake with beautiful grass and a walking path. Geese stroll (and poop) along the path and swim in the lake. Here, Swickard and Gail demonstrate their redirecting technique.

Gail slowly moves in low to the ground, then suddenly and quickly startles the flock. Sending them to another area.

It takes a lot more than one stalking to redirect geese out of an area. Gail and Swickard will do this over and over until the geese no longer feel safe and find somewhere else to go.

In places with larger lakes, Swickard will even work in tandem with Gail on a kayak, clearing geese from the middle of the water while she clears them from the perimeter.

About those babies

But, while redirecting the geese keeps parks and public areas clean for residents, it doesn't do much to control the population. Remember the two geese scenario — they can become 50 in five years. 

Enter the addling egg technique. Both biologist Todd Meese and Dave Swickard from Geese Police use it to control the Canada goose population. 

Sometimes Dave Swickard clears geese from a lake using a kayak, while his dog Gail clears the geese from the perimeter.
Credit Briana O'Higgins / KCUR 89.3

The most common way to addle eggs is to coat them in oil. The oil suffocates the embryo and the gosling will not hatch. The other way is to shake the egg to scramble the insides.

"There is a controlled process to do this, because the male and female both watch the nest — mainly the female," says Meese. "The day you addle them, you gotta record that day, then you have to remove the eggs within ... If you remove them too early she will just reproduce, lay more eggs."

Last spring the city used oiling to addle 402 eggs in 75 nests along the Brush Creek corridor east of Brookside. They also spent thousands on redirecting geese from parks and fountains so residents would have clearer pathways, beautiful grass — and be a little safer.

"I don't know why, but they like to land on your head, peck your nose and that is their defense mechanism, I guess," says Swickard with a laugh.

At least the geese have some way to fight for their Beverly Hills.

Briana O'Higgins is the digital director at KCUR 89.3. You can read her original article and connect with her on Twitter, @brianaohiggins.

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