By Ines Boussebaa
BU News Service
Anyone who has stepped in goose poop on the Charles River Esplanade might be pleasantly surprised to learn Boston has a plan to control the ever-growing goose population—and, in an unusual move, the city is asking for help from residents.
City Councilor at-large Anissa Essaibi-George has set in place a plan to train residents on egg addling, a method of population control for Canada geese. The egg addling training will be led by two wildlife conflict experts from the National Human Society at the Dorchester Franklin Park Clubhouse at 6 p.m. on March 29. All are invited, including parks groups in Boston and major institutions, such as universities, who maintain green spaces. After the training, residents will need to apply for permits to put into practice over a two-week window what they learned after the geese lay their eggs.
“A single goose can consume up to four pounds of grass per day and produce as much as three pounds of fecal matter every day,” Essaibi-George explained in a city council order from Sept. 28 when she called for a hearing to look at options to reduce the geese population. Additionally, Canada geese “can violently chase other wildlife, children and small adults, hissing and even slapping and biting,” she wrote.
Geese breeding season began earlier this month and will continue through June 30, bringing along more little geese and not-so-little amounts of feces along the Esplanade and other city parks. In the egg addling training—the first of its kind by the City of Boston—residents will learn how to stop the goose eggs from developing. According to the Humane Society of the United States Wild Neighbors Program, addling involves taking eggs early in development from a nest during nesting season, coating the shells with corn oil, and placing them back into the nest. By coating the eggs, air cannot pass through the shell, preventing development.
A public hearing was first held in October 2016, where wildlife experts discussed the impacts geese have in Boston and what could be done to cut down on the population. As a result of that meeting, Essaibi-George called for the egg addling training day, separate from any formal council action.
Park rangers are completing their own egg addling program, but they can’t do it all, according to Alana Olsen, chief of staff for Essaibi-George. “The councilor thought it was good idea to train groups because the park rangers don’t have the capacity to visit all the nests in the city of Boston. There’s thousands of nests, and there’s only a two-week period where you can addle eggs,” she said. According to the the Humane Society of the United States Wild Neighbors Program, the nesting dates vary from year to year, due to weather conditions.
If residents are interested in getting involved, they “should become affiliated with their parks, or they can reach out to our office or park rangers if there’s a geese problem in their neighborhood,” Olsen added.
Often, public health concerns are listed as a reason to cut down on the geese population. Elliot Oren, owner of the Boston Geese Police, a company that uses trained border collies to harass geese, said, “Droppings contain a variety of bacteria and viruses including E. Coli and Giardia. If people are playing sports on a field covered in droppings, that’s dangerous.”
Bay Village Resident Jo Campbell said she has been concerned about geese for a long time and thinks that in her 53 years of living in Boston, the population has increased. “I walk the public gardens with my dogs, and it’s so annoying when you have the goose crap around. Kids fall in it, dogs try to eat it. It’s an unsanitary bit that we have to put up with,” said Campbell. She said she is glad Essaibi-George is addressing the issue, and supports “limiting all the annoying geese around in a humane way.”
However, H. Heusmann, a waterfowl biologist at the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife), said there is little evidence of health hazards from goose droppings. “While they do carry pathogens that can affect humans, incidents are low,” he said. “You’d have to eat several handfuls to make yourself really sick.”
Meanwhile, the geese have begun to overpopulate. Heusmann explained that the geese in Boston have no migration instincts and no natural predators. “Their large body size allows them to survive winters,” he said. “They nest here and overpopulate.”
MassWildlife uses several methods already to deal with the geese, including handing out egg addling permits to residents. However, according to the MassWildlife website, studies show a flock would only decrease to 75 percent of its original size in 10 years if 95 percent of eggs were addled annually. There are also two hunting seasons, one from Labor Day to Sept. 25, and a later season in mid-January to mid-February, to further decrease geese populations. These seasons are meant to harvest resident geese after the migratory ones have gone south. Thus far, MassWildlife said it has no plans to go beyond these methods.
For those with homes, Huesmann recommends putting up fences. While geese can fly over fences, they tend to walk to where they want to go, he explained. “You should put up a small fence. Big ones will be just as effective as small ones.”
Troy Wall, press contact at the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), said the DCR already uses various strategies to minimize the amount of geese along the Charles River Esplanade. For the past two years, the organization has “placed strobe light machines randomly throughout the park to prevent geese from becoming conditioned to avoiding specific locations.” The DCR also uses field sweepers to collect goose droppings, and dogs are brought in to chase geese.
Victoria Thomson, a runner on the Esplanade, said that geese are “a bit of a nuisance on runner paths. If you run too close to them, they’ll hiss and attack you, and it’s very unpleasant.” However, she said she would not take part in the training day. “From a vegan standpoint, I just don’t see a need to affect animal life,” she explained. “I hate geese, but I’m not going to kill them.”
The Franklin Park Clubhouse is located at One Circuit Drive, Dorchester, near the Blue Hill Avenue Entrance.