BIRD BRAINS: Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends (ISBN: 978-0-7267-8755-5)
The cacophonic honking of migrating V-shaped skeins of Canada geese has historically been considered a primary herald of the changing of seasons, from winter to spring and summer to fall. Unfortunately during the past few decades, the reputation of these once-magnificent birds has taken not just a dramatic turn but also a dive into the depths of human contempt.
A regally handsome bird, the Canada goose does not look like a villain but, in this case, appearance is definitely deceiving. Canada geese are contaminating many of our ponds and lakes at an alarming rate.
A large flock of wintering Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) swim in a municipal pond in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts.© Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS
Many populations of Canada geese no longer migrate. Instead they live full-time in city parks, golf courses, and municipal ponds—anywhere there are significant patches of turf grass lawns for them to graze. With heavy grazing also comes heavy . . . well, if you’ve ever walked around a pond frequented by Canada geese, you know exactly what I mean. Goose poop literally everywhere, and where do these massive droppings end up? You guessed it—they wash off the manicured lawns right into adjacent ponds and streams, creating horrendous nutrient loading and fecal coliform contamination problems.
Why is this happening to these once noble birds? First, let’s examine two main reasons why the geese have stopped migrating: Our warming climate has reduced their natural instinct to move with the seasons, and the general public is artificially feeding the geese. Like just about every animal on earth—including humans—the Canada goose is always going to take the easiest path possible. No matter how strong the migratory gene may be, flying long distances is extremely stressful and fraught with danger. If all the essentials of life are being provided to you year-round, why bother to move?
What can be done to alleviate this problem? Land managers and wildlife biologists have tried many things to control Canada goose populations and restore their migratory habits. But since these birds are federally protected, the best legal approach is to employ some common sense measures that make properties much less attractive to them. First, don’t plant Kentucky bluegrass lawns but rather plant species like fescue and switch grass that don’t taste as good to geese, and also require much less water and maintenance time. Next, don’t mow so much. Especially close to the water, let the grass grow at least 12 inches high. The geese don’t like the tall grass because it provides places for potential predators to hide. Finally, geese don’t like to have to fly back and forth between water and feeding areas, so creating a barrier between land and water—even a three-foot high fence or hedgerow—will cause the geese to move on.
With just a few simple adjustments in the way we manage our public open space, we can keep these large waterfowl from fouling our waterways.
Text Excerpted from Book: Bird Brains: Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends, written by Budd Titlow and published by Lyons Press (an imprint of Globe Pequot Press).
Author’s bio:For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place — within nature’s beauty — before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental heroes among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — COMING FULL CIRCLE: A Sweeping Saga of Conservation Stewardship Across America — provides the answers we all seek and need.Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.