Why you should duck from that goose
Over the past few weeks, geese have returned to the Fort Garry campus of the University of Manitoba in great numbers. What’s more, they have paired off, selected some prime real estate and started nesting, often right beside buildings and walkways, or in geranium planters.
Already, there are reports of staff and students getting too close to the geese, interference with their nesting, and even some injuries to people caused by overprotective ganders.
Dr. James Shapiro is director of the Avian Behaviour Laboratory operated by the department of psychology. Since 1971 he has been studying imprinting behaviour of geese and ducks, and has some insight into the avian brain.
“There are a lot of geese on the campus now because they have begun their northern migration,” he says. “Many of them will stay in and around Winnipeg because of their protected status and the availability of water, food, nesting sites, and reduced predation.”
Biologist Dr. Kevin Fraser is head of the Avian Behaviour and Conservation Lab at the University of Manitoba. He says: “Humans provide great goose habitat. They require open space near water, and grass or lawns provide a handy food source. Campus may also provide some safety from predators for both adults and nests.”
In fact, geese nesting in urban areas has become a problem. The City of Winnipeg is a part of the Urban Goose Working Group (UGWG), a collaboration between all levels of government and the Winnipeg Airport Authority. The UGWG has attempted to reduce geese numbers by removing eggs from nests along major roads in Winnipeg. But this has exacerbated the problem.
Shapiro explains: “There is only so much land that is available for these geese to inhabit. As they increase in numbers, the carrying capacity of the land available to them within the city grows smaller and smaller. Hence, their numbers escalate and they start to branch out into less and less desirable locations. They are now found everywhere, including on the University of Manitoba campus.”
Sharing space with geese
“First, you should be aware of nesting geese on campus and try to avoid getting too close,” says Fraser. “Approaching nests can cause stress and affect the incubation behaviour of the female goose on the nest. For a goose to successfully complete nesting and fledge their young, disturbance should be limited as much as possible.”
And it’s also illegal. Federal legislation protects them. Geese, like most of our other migratory birds, are protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act. You cannot poison them. You cannot hunt or shoot them within city limits. It is illegal to disturb a nesting goose or to handle or destroy its nest or eggs without a permit.
But as you walk around campus, you might turn a corner and find yourself face to face with a goose who might not be thrilled to see you so close to her nest. What should you do?
“If a goose does run toward you aggressively with its wings out or fly at you, continue to face the goose while backing away,” advises Fraser. “Keep your arms up to protect yourself.”
Both experts advise that instead of running away from a goose that is threatening you, face the goose, spread your arms to make yourself look bigger, and charge the goose. The goose will turn and run away because it will perceive you as a larger goose. Once it turns away, you’re home free.
“The male is extremely aggressive during the mating season and will attack a human being, a car or truck, or anything else that it feels is a threat to its mate and his territory. When a goose feels threatened it hisses at you, spreads its wings, and charges you. You should not run away for if you fall the goose will beat you with its wings,” Shapiro says.
On its “elbow,” a goose has a hard, knobby bone called the alula. If a goose hits you with it, you can be bruised or lacerated.
“They can do quite a bit of damage to small children,” Shapiro adds.
Fraser cautions that if a goose flies toward you, its claws can cause scratches that may need to be treated by a doctor.
And yes, geese can bite, although Fraser says their bite will not usually break the skin; it is more of a strong pinch.
Geese don’t want to be in your selfies
Of course, being so close to wildlife is very tempting for amateur nature photographers, but the experts don’t recommend getting too close.
Fraser says: “It is great that people are excited about geese nesting on campus and want to take pictures. However, it is best to take pictures from a distance and not try to take selfies that require getting too close. Give the geese a wide berth. Also, the mate of the incubating female goose is often nearby and may view the photographer, who is distracted by their picture taking, as a threat and attack.”
He adds: “Also, do not feed the geese. There is plenty of grass around for them to eat, and they are wild animals that will act to defend themselves if they feel threatened.”
Shapiro says: “Geese cross roads without flying away when they have young that cannot fly following them. If they want to take their brood across the road, they have to walk across it since their young cannot fly. They do not recognize the danger involved in crossing a road with fast moving vehicles on it.”
Fraser emphasizes: “We have to be aware that they may unexpectedly walk out into traffic without warning. In the wild, there are not many predators that can take on a large goose, so their strategy is to stay the course and not back away from approaching threats, like cars.”
So although geese may seem to have infringed on our human spaces, we have to learn how to live with them.
Shapiro notes: “Geese have as much right to create a nest and rear their young as you do to purchase a house and live in it. Both the geese and you obey laws that allow the geese to nest or you to purchase a house. The laws that the geese respond to are the forces of nature that require them to behave in particular ways that allow them to get their genes into their gene pool. The laws you obey are the ones that human beings developed that are supposed to allow us to live in harmony with each other.”
Fraser expands on this, emphasizing environmental concerns: “The greenspaces on campus and the wildlife they support can enrich our experience. Geese and other migratory birds are interesting members of our campus community, and with some caution, can be appreciated without incident to human or goose.”