Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Five Most Common Myths and False Allegations Against Canada Geese

One of the reasons I haven't been posting daily on this blog is due to being busy trying to address false accusations, misinformation and disparaging remarks about Canada geese on article and other web sites.

It occurs that it might be a good idea to address the most common myths and accusations about the geese here in case others find themselves in similar verbal battles:

The Five Most Common Myths and False Allegations Against Canada Geese

1-- "The geese are a non-native, invasive species."

This misperception stems from the fact the geese are called, "Canada geese." But, in fact, the name has nothing to do with where the geese originated from (which is why it is always wrong to refer to them as "Canadian Geese). The geese were named after a man with the surname, "Canada." Since they are waterfowl, the geese, like mallards are "native" to any location with open water. Most geese living in the states were born here and are thus native to America. They are no more "invasive" than swans, ducks, coots or other waterfowl. Simply put: Where there is open water, there is usually waterfowl.

2-- "The geese are overpopulated."

Canada geese are a migratory bird and when born in the far north (Alaska, the Arctic or Canada) they have to fly long distances south during the fall in order to "winter" in warmer climates. This can sometimes result in what seems a sudden " population boom" of (resident and migratory) Canada geese usually in the mid-Atlantic or southern states over the colder months. However, with the first meltings of winter ice, the migratory geese usually take off for spring migrations back to where they were born. They tend to breed and raise their young in the same places they began their own lives.

"Resident Canada geese" are those birds who were born in the states and therefore have neither reason nor instinct to "migrate" to the far northern countries in the spring and summer. They remain in the states.

However, though remaining in the US, resident Canada geese do not remain in one area all year long. Like all geese, their instinct is to fly.

Canada geese will usually "winter" in one place. They will breed and raise their young in another location (usually where they were born.) They will "molt" in still another area. And they will spend late summer in another location. The point is, Canada geese move around -- a lot. It is common to see many geese in an area for a few months, weeks or days and then none at all. Geese fly, whether or not they are fed by humans. The geese are not dependent upon humans for food. There instinct to fly is far greater than any "dependence" or liking they might develop for human food treats.

According to the Dept of Interior, there are an estimated 3.8 million Canada geese living in the USA. (One wonders how DOI arrives at this figure since so many geese are migratory and do not spend the entire year here.) 170,000 Canada geese are said to be living in New York State which raises the same question. (Are such figures arrived at in the winter or summer since the number of geese living here varies substantially according to the season?)

In any case, the charge is that there are "too many geese" in the USA (and specifically, New York) and the government has embarked on an ambitious (and cruel) campaign to "reduce" the Canada goose population by "2/3rds" in the United States. This is planned through expanded hunting throughout the country as well as "roundups and gassings" of Canada geese such as what occurred in Prospect and other NYC parks over this past summer.

But, even assuming government goose numbers are accurate, are 3.8 million geese in the entire United States really "too many?" Geese are about a quarter of the size of humans. We have more than 330 million people living in the USA. The goose population in only 1% of that. As for the "170,000 geese" in New York State, when one considers more than 200,000 people can cram into a "rave party" or more than 100,000 to a football game, then that 170,000 geese in the entire state of NY doesn't seem big at all. New York is after all, a very large state.

All these things considered, the charge that Canada geese are "overpopulated" in the USA seems completely bogus. Some people may not like them, but then again, there are people who hate babies, dogs, pigeons and even sparrows. They should not be dictating national policy.

3-- "Geese Poop."

(No kidding?) All living beings "poop." We don't seem to mind the millions of tons of waste that are deposited into the environment every year from the billions of "food" animals we raise on factory farms and slaughter for meat. But, goose droppings along a lake or pond "bother" us. There are special machines that can pull up goose droppings if the aim is to keep a grassy area around a lake, golf course or park pristine. However, the facts are that goose droppings are mostly recycled grass and pose no real harm to the environment, other animals or humans. As waterfowl, geese and other birds have been living along watering areas for centuries. They are part of the natural environment. Geese consume insects and small invertebrates and can therefore be important in helping to keep bug populations in check.

4-- "The geese fly into airliners!"

No loss of human life has occurred on a commercial airliner as result of collision with Canada geese. While it is true that flight 1549 was forced to land in the Hudson river two years ago following a collision with two migratory geese from Labrador, Canada, that does not justify wiping out almost the entire population of resident Canada geese living in the New York City area. The truth is that any flying bird over 4 lbs can technically "take down an airliner." A few months ago, an plane flying over Alaska was forced to emergency land after hitting one eagle. About a month later, another airliner departing from Salt Lake City had to emergency land after a pelican hit the windshield.

The facts are that we could have killed every resident Canada goose in New York City and it would NOT have prevented any of these near-disasters!

The solutions to bird and airline collisions are not to scapegoat one particular species of bird and embark on a campaign of pointless and ruthless avian slaughter. Recently, in Canada a law was passed requiring planes arriving to and departing from airports to fly at slower speeds to avoid bird strikes (this is because most collisions occur during take-offs and landings.) Other solutions involve better use of Merlin avian radar and mapping out bird migrating patterns. One of course might question also why one 5 lb bird can take down a plane. Perhaps we need to build better planes.

5-- "The geese are aggressive!"

Of all the false allegations against Canada geese, this has to be the most egregious and contrary to the truth.

FACT: Geese are among the LEAST "aggressive" of all animals. Other birds join flocks of Canada geese and are routinely accepted. Mallard mothers will sleep with their baby ducklings at night near families of Canada geese for safety and security reasons. Even when pushed away by other birds for food resources, Canada geese rarely put up a fight. While, like all birds, they can sometimes be pushy with each other or other birds (particularly when protecting a mate or family), the charge that geese are "aggressive" is so wrong as to be almost laughable. They are among the most peaceful birds on the planet.

In addition to being peaceful around other animals and often even serving like a "security base" to other waterfowl, Canada geese are among the most social and friendly of birds to humans. They will freely walk up to children and take treats gently from human hands. They are among the most "cooperative" birds for photographers, both amateur and professional; sometimes appearing to actually "pose" for photos! In fact, it is their trust and adaptability to humans that has actually landed the geese in so much "trouble" with their two-legged "friends."

Because of their close proximity to human created environments, Canada geese find themselves these days to be both, the most cherished and loved bird among humans, as well as the most hated and untruthfully maligned. -- PCA


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