Monday, March 28, 2011
To harass or not harass. To oil or not oil. Those are the questions.
One of the dilemmas that has arisen in our struggles to save the geese, is whether or not to support non-lethal means to control population.
Non-lethal methods of population control involve either "harassing" the birds (i.e. chasing the geese away with specially trained Border Collies, pyrotechnics or noise makers ) or "egg addling" which involves coating goose eggs with oil to prevent hatching.
Of course, if the only choice is between brutally killing geese and their young goslings or chasing them away or destroying eggs, then one might be compelled to choose the latter.
But, is that really a choice?
Reality is that both "choices" would ultimately result in our city parks (and other locations) being totally emptied of their resident geese.
Is that what we really want?
Should our parks not provide some kind of safe cover for birds who otherwise were almost hunted to extinction in the last century and are still vastly hunted today?
Personally, I have grappled with these questions for some time.
At first, I supported the non-lethal means to chase geese from the parks or oil eggs if it meant that any geese remaining in the summer would not be rounded up and gassed.
But, since then different experiences and new information have changed my mind.
The first of these experiences occurred last November, when personally observing a goose "harassment" operation at Harlem Meer in Central Park.
It was after 6 PM in the evening and the park was mostly empty of human traffic.
At the time the lake was in the process of freezing over. Almost half of it had turned to ice.
Nevertheless, there were still a number of different bird species residing on the ice or in the water. These included Northern Shovelers who swam in constant circles helping to keep the water from entirely freezing over, as well as a healthy group of mallards, one swan and about 30 or so, Canada geese.
A woman showed up in a white van with "Geese Relief" painted on the sides.
I was positioned on the other side of the lake when noticing the woman suddenly hurling a large, metal type canister onto the frozen ice. It made a very loud, crashing sound.
At first, I thought in my naivety, that the woman was there to help the birds by breaking up some of the newly formed ice!
But, then an obvious panic flared through all the birds either in the water or on the ice.
The Canada geese were the first to send out a chorus of loud "alarm honks."
Almost instantaneously, Joey, Brad and Angelina (the three flightless ducks) whom I was feeding at the time, suddenly bolted from their position on the embankment and dove into the water, swimming frantically to the middle of the lake.
And, in less than a minute's time, ALL the birds (with the exception of the three flightless ducks) suddenly took off for the skies.
First, the geese, then the mallards and finally, the shovelers following closely behind.
Unlike the highly organized and orderly way geese normally fly when taking off in their familiar "V" formation, these birds rather bolted up almost in a straight vertical line from the water. They flew higher than normal and in frazzled, disorganized fashion -- almost like smoke spewing up from an exploded bomb.
Within a few short moments, the lake was almost entirely devoid of birds, except for the panicked Joey and BrAdgenlina, huddled in the middle of the lake, along with a few stubborn geese and the one swan, "Hector."
I walked over and confronted the woman from "Geese Relief."
"What the HELL are you doing?" I demanded. "Don't you realize we need the geese here to try and maintain some open water? How can you send birds up to the skies in a panic when we have low flying planes over the park? Isn't that inviting a potential airline disaster?"
The woman did not answer me, but rather got back in the van and drove a short distance away.
I remained in the park for some time, but it became apparent that the Geese Relief woman would not go away until every last goose was banished from the Meer.
When I returned to the Meer the next day, there were no geese at all and even Hector the swan had apparently been harassed away with all the other birds.
Hector never returned and to this day, I don't know what happened to the large and very social, beloved swan.
The following day, I complained to Central Park Conservancy about the goose harassment and was assured that the program would be suspended for the rest of the winter and they would hire a new agency come the spring.
In essence, "goose harassment" is not just about "chasing away geese." Its about chasing off every other waterfowl that happens to be hanging with the geese.
Other birds apparently depend on Canada geese for security and early warning systems of danger.
Harassment is also about putting birds in the air, flying in disorganized panic. Something that should be seriously questioned in areas close to airports.
I can't prove anything of course, but have long suspected that the two geese that flight 1549 collided with in January of 2009 might have been "harassed" from one of the nearby airports.
After all, geese don't normally fly into planes.
But, birds flying in panic?
That could well be another picture entirely.
The egg addling is another matter I have changed my mind on -- particularly as it pertains to the geese in our public parks.
The most basic explanation for this change in position is that I fail to see any "overpopulation" of geese and therefore see no reason for "population control."
Birds are pretty good at controlling their own populations to suit the environment they live in, as well as the amount of "predation" that might be stressing the species.
Destroying eggs abilities to hatch is tantamount to "predation" on a species and most likely will result in the geese adapting to the predation by either seeking to breed more or building nests in places not easily accessible to humans (such as building terraces or high rock formations).
Moreover, human interference into normal bird behavior and instinct, can over time, alter normal avian mating patterns.
Some scientists maintain that when "divorce" occurs in birds who normally mate for life (such as Canada geese or swans) it is more often due to the mated pair being unable to produce young (something that occurs in some human couples as well when encountering issues of infertility).
Do we really want to severely stress and screw up normal bird behavior and mating patterns?
Finally, in addition to all these considerations, there is also the element (and stress) of the actual egg oiling itself.
Canada geese are extremely protective of both, their mates and their young.
According to an egg addling video put out by the USDA, it is recommended that two people work together to oil eggs. One person to actually oil the eggs and another individual with an umbrella.
The job of the person with the umbrella is to stave off attempts by the parent geese, (especially the gander) to defend their nest.
It is in fact, sad to see the parent geese in the video trying to fend off attack of their nest. How would a human mother or father react if someone was trying to kidnap their child? Well, the geese are the same.
Talk about "interfering" with normal bird instinct -- including the instinct to protect young.
Still, the bottom line to all these questions is the current population of Canada geese in this country.
According to government figures, there are an estimated 3.8 million Canada geese throughout the entire United States. (We have a hundred times more humans.)
By contrast, we have 7 million wild turkeys.
But, when one considers the nationwide actions and attempts to hunt geese, harass them, destroy their eggs and "cull" them, what does that mean for the future of this majestic and adaptable species?
There were, after all, once tens of millions of passenger pigeons who now only exist in museums and history books.
We don't want to see Canada geese go the way of eventual extinction.
There is only so much stress and depravation a species can successfully "adapt" to before destruction takes its final toll.
Forevermore. -- PCA