Honk! A guide to living with Canada geese

Get up close, but not too close, with urban wildlife

Hear that sound? There's more honking in the city at this time of year than most, and it's not just from impatient drivers.

Canada geese are returning from their winter sojourns to settle down, lay some eggs and become happy, noisy parents to tiny, yellow puffballs.

Sometimes, they do this in weird places, like building rooftops, restaurant patios or your backyard. Geese don’t care if we don’t like that. Not only are they tough old birds (as anyone who’s been hissed at knows), but they’re protected by law. Where they lay is where they stay, and that’s that.

This presents a rare opportunity to mingle with urban wildlife – from a distance. We asked veterinarian technologist Kristen Vanderlinde (Animal Health Technology ’15), whose career to date has included rescuing impossibly cute goslings, about how to share a little space with some very big birds.

Geese love the city

Urban populations of Canada geese are growing. “Geese do love to hang out in the city because it’s a protected area for them and there’s lots of food around,” says Vanderlinde.

There are also fewer predators, which can include coyotes. Also, tall buildings make for great, safe places to build nests.

No one messes with a goose

The Canada goose is protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act. “Once a nest has been built, you can’t interfere with them,” says Vanderlinde.

“You have to leave them alone and let them do their thing."

After geese show up, “You have to leave them alone and let them do their thing until they leave with their babies.”

They're not (very) dangerous

No one should approach a Canada goose, says Vanderlinde. They may be strolling along a sidewalk, but they’re still wild. As far as a safe distance goes, let the hissing be your guide. If you accidentally cross the line, don’t run away, since the goose will probably chase you, and this will make you look silly.

“They don’t have teeth or talons,” Vanderlinde says, “but they could give you a pretty good bruise if they make contact.”

They love their babies, and others' babies too

canada goose goslingAll is not lost if a baby goose gets separated from its parents. “One thing that is awesome with Canada geese is that you can foster out goslings to other families,” says Vanderlinde.

A professional (such as those at WildNorth, a rescue and rehabilitation organization where she  used to work) will find a family with similar-sized goslings and place the orphans nearby. They’ll start to peep, and soon that mom will take them under her wing.

Geese may need your space, but not you

Geese like eating grass, aquatic plants, grain and the odd bug. They also like what people feed them, which is bad.

Vanderlinde says that grain left out for birds living on buildings or at the local park can go moldy and make them sick. Geese can also end up being overfed by humans, and dependent upon them.

They’ll eventually leave

migrating canada geeseCanada geese, which mate for life and share parenting duties, need about a month to incubate eggs. Then they tend to stick around for a few more weeks to raise goslings.

“They like to be in their family group,” says Vanderlinde. It’s usually mid- to late summer when those parents become empty nesters and retire to greener pastures.

"A chance to see wildlife in an urban environment"

While some geese stay year-round, the majority head south, though usually not farther than the border between the United States and Mexico. That won’t happen until the ground and open water begin to freeze here.

Until then, says Vanderlinde, hosting them “is a chance to see wildlife in an urban environment, which you don’t get to see that often. We tell people to respect the geese and give them their space, but feel free to enjoy watching them. Especially when they have their babies.”

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