Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Geese on the Grass (Alas)

To paraphrase Paul Simon, the other day it was my birthday and I hung one more year on the line.

I got up that morning and went outside before getting ready for work. Two cardinals were battling it out musically. The songs signify “this is my territory” to other males and “I can sing louder and longer and be a better provider” to females. These songs should not be sung in mid-February but with this year’s unusual weather all bets are off.

Just before going inside I heard the honking of Canada geese. A small flock was taking off from the small stream behind my neighbors across the street on the county Greystone property.

How most people see Canada geese.
These were local geese, and they were heading someplace close such as one of the town ponds or the elementary school ballfield. They'd be back at dusk, like commuters.

We've all seen the long Vs of migratory geese heading north in spring and south before winter. Many times geese will fly south from the tundra to a lake in upstate New York or New Jersey, only to have to move on after that water freezes. You can tell they are migrants because the flock is very large and very high in the sky.

The local geese, despite being in New Jersey for generations, also get restless, that instinct that says “we must move” during migration times and “we must find more food” during the winter not quite extinguished.

All Canada geese look the same so when huge flocks gather in parks or office lawns, one can’t shoot them because they are protected by federal law. Some companies use dogs to scare the geese away, pushing the problem to another office park, or silhouettes of men or dogs on the lawns, the suburban equivalent of a scarecrow that works about as well when the geese realize nothing is moving.

Geese like short grass so they can see predators coming, making manicured lawns or decorative ponds perfect habitats.

There was a lot of screaming in New York City when scores of Canada geese were captured on a pond in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and killed. As they do with the rampant deer herds, these people seem to have a romantic notion of "nature" and prefer blaming mankind and leaving the creatures alone or controlling their numbers with “birth control.” For geese, that means finding a nest, somehow getting the parents away from it (no easy task - a well-aimed swat of a wing can break your arm and geese also bite) and shaking the eggs to keep them from forming chicks (thus the parents sit on eggs that never hatch).

There aren’t enough people in the world to do this, and that doesn’t get rid of the geese already around, eating the grass and leaving behind long, green, cigarette-shaped souvenirs. And then there's always next year.

I am for balance, and more than agree it was man  - with his unchecked expansion into hundreds of acres of woods to create suburban sprawl - who created this problem. But  leaving hundreds of Canada geese to flock on - and mess up - hiking trails, business “campuses” and “office parks” is extremely unbalanced, not to mention a health hazard.

In the Bergen County, N.J., town where I work the neighboring company did nothing to discourage the four geese hanging around its fake pond, cropping the lawn and leaving their droppings on the grass. Geese mate for life and have large families.The population grew and the lawn service worked around them. When summer ended and the lawn service put its mowers away for the season, the undisturbed geese had no reason to leave. In fact, others joined them. Sometimes they wander onto my employer's property. It hasn't helped there's been no snow for force them to leave.

There are more geese behind me and to the left that you can't see in my picture.
I enjoyed walking the paths between that office and mine, but the picture shows why that has ended. When the geese finished cropping the grass near the pond they moved on. They crossed the footpaths and driveways, leaving their many calling cards. What used to be a long, pleasurable hike became an obstacle course. If I wasn’t shooing 35 geese out of my way I was stepping carefully around droppings everywhere, including bordering public sidewalks. I now stick to the concrete parking lots.

I do not understand why this company and others that go to a lot of expensive trouble to keep the lawns mowed, fed and watered in summer allow geese to literally make a big mess everywhere when the weather gets cold. Maybe it's because no executives walk on the paths, or those employees who do figure the crap literally comes with the territory. Maybe no one wants to be known as anti-goose.

Maybe they shouldn't have sought a perfectly manicured lawn in the first place.

Geese are out of control in recreational parks and fields, too, which means a lot of people are walking or playing in goose droppings. Worse, some people believe it is their civic duty to feed the geese, which only encourages them to stay and make more of a mess.

Canada geese are not the only pests, of course. The populations of a lot of creatures have exploded thanks to man's incursion into what had been untouched lands, usually at the detriment of other species. The deer herd is huge in my area, for instance. In other areas of the country alligators are showing up in people's pools or coyotes snatch little dogs out of backyards. Bears are killing chickens or breaking into homes and bird feeders or feeding from Dumpsters. Skunks and racoons have also discovered people are rather sloppy when it comes their garbage.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like Canada geese. Seeing wave after wave fly in at dusk over the only unfrozen water of Schwartzwood Lake one winter a few years ago was thrilling. Watching a very long skein of geese way up and calling as they fly in migration always stops me in my tracks.

But those are migrants and the others are local pests. As my husband likes to say, in the suburbs we call our rats deer and our pigeons Canada geese.

We created this situation. There aren't enough natural predators to make a dent in this population. We must do something to put nature back in balance, even if that means rounding the geese up and “harvesting“ (oh, the euphemisms!) the meat for homeless shelters. Alot of people are as emotionally - sometimes dangerously - against hunting geese, as they are against hunting deer or bear. But I see no other way around the issue.

In the meantime, watch where you walk.

No comments:

Post a Comment