Getting to know your geese

If you&rsquo;ve walked around the University of Waterloo ever, then you have likely spotted a swaggering gaggle of hissing Canada Geese&mdash;that&rsquo;s right, <em>Canada</em> geese, not canadian geese. The hostile birds, infamous for their temperamental personality and vicious attacks, have flooded Waterloo and seemingly declared dibs on the UW campus. Students and residents alike have long been perplexed about the overwhelming barrage of geese and, more importantly, what exactly can be done about these incorrigible pests.</p>

These nuisance birds are to blame for overgrazing and fouling lawns, parks, cemeteries, farmland, and golf courses, and even create runway hazards during plane landings and take-offs. In addition, their grass and seed diet spur the frequent and nasty droppings that have littered campus pathways and fields.

To understand the foul-tempered fowl a bit more, let’s delve into the basics of gooseism as provided by Ducks Unlimited. The Canada goose, (or Branta Canadensis from the Latin “black Canadian goose” is indigenous to North America. The black head and white chinstrap readily distinguish the Canada Goose from other fowls but this bird boasts wide-ranging proportions and plumage attributes as is displayed by its seven subspecies: Atlantic, Hudson Bay or Interior, Giant, Moffitt’s or Great Basin, Lesser, Dusky, and Vancouver.

The bird’s size ranges from 75 to 110 cm with a wing span ranging from 127–185 cm and is equipped with insulating plumage to shield against arctic temperatures. If you’ve ever been chased by one, you know a goose can be fast. It can cover over 1000 km in a day at speeds ranging from 50 to 90 km/hr. These migratory birds begin their annual voyage in late August up to early November traversing the skies in their iconic V-shape formation in search of more temperate regions.

However, the rise of global warming and surging temperatures has persuaded geese populations to discard their migration ritual. According to Environmental and Climate Canada, Southern Ontario has become a primary permanent home to a large fraction of seven million geese residing in North America; the temperate climate coupled with the abundance of lakes and open fields accommodate the goose’s grazing and vegetative diet.

Moreover, the suburban life as seen in and around Waterloo affords geese refuge from wild predators such as, coyotes, foxes and brown bears. Consequently, these miniature militants have goose-stepped their way onto the university campus and haughtily laid claim to athletic fields, parks and pedestrian pathways. They are even known to cavalierly roost in parking lots and in front of buildings, forcing students to seek less dangerous detours.

 Ironically, the infamy and ubiquity of the goose around the campus has elected this easily ruffled bird as a de facto mascot with its very own promotional apparel sold at the Waterloo Store. In addition, the goose has even inspired the development the Waterloo Goose Watch, an app dedicated to tracking the whereabouts of the real Angry Birds and providing so-called  “goose-nest etiquette’”; it is recommended to avoid the geese during nesting season (March through June) and if confronted, to never give them your back and maintain neutral eye-contact.

Peace between the people of Waterloo and the Canada goose is a dubious prospect, despite efforts to subvert the bird’s dominion over the city. The municipality oversees goose maintenance practices such as addling, nesting prevention, and the relocation of moulting flocks. Although individuals may be commissioned to hunt and destroy eggs, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada, “hunting at current levels is not enough to stop the population growth” since “…hunting is possible” only “…within the limits permitted during hunting seasons.”

Considering the havoc geese continue to wreak, it is evident that more innovative measures should be considered. Few people on campus like the geese and only tolerate the honking, hissing, and occasionally chasing. They are less of a mascot and more of an in-joke between students, staff and faculty that will never be funny. The fact that a goose nest can divert foot-traffic speaks heavily to how passive the campus population is to these birds.

The science, however, doesn’t lie. As long as environmental factors continue as they do, the University of Waterloo will continue to house a migratory population.