Canada geese opt for Maryland residence Scientists will study habits of East Coast 'street geese'

June 26, 1991|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,Sun Staff Correspondent

GAITHERSBURG -- The Canada goose is discovering what we have known all along -- Maryland truly is the land of pleasant living.

For the discriminating goose, we have it all. There are lush green golf courses to graze on, ponds to swim in and sometimes people to provide food. Best of all, you hardly ever see a guy with a gun on a golf course or around a reservoir in suburban Baltimore or Washington. With such a lifestyle, why fly back to Canada each spring?

An estimated 10,000 Canada geese are now year-round residents of Maryland, and the numbers are growing every year.

So yesterday in Gaithersburg, wildlife biologists rounded up 300 molting and grounded geese and tagged them as part of a national study to better understand the habits of the resident or so-called "street goose."

These geese aren't exactly becoming lazy. They belong to a tribe -- with its own genetic pre-determination to stay put -- that is increasing not only in Maryland but in 18 states from Maine to Georgia.

Goose-wise, there are two problems with this arrangement. People like one or two geese, but a flock is another thing, particularly when it sticks around all summer and interferes with golf shots.

In addition, state officials have begun to worry that the migrant population is on the decline and that stricter hunting limits may be needed.

The 300 geese coralled at the National Institute of Standards and Technology compound yesterday will help the Department of Natural Resources figure out for sure whether the two populations are increasing or decreasing and how much they are migrating.

The institute's 600 acres of rolling lawns and ponds are providing a comfortable home for at least 600 geese but a headache for the people.

Traffic has to stop as flocks meander across roads. Goose droppings, with high nutrient content, are so abundant that they are actually polluting the ponds, said John F. Kennedy, a program analyst for the facilities services department. The droppings cause algae blooms that reduce oxygen levels in the ponds.

Goose poop has other drawbacks. "People like to walk down to the pond, and they are slipping and sliding," he said.

Yesterday's roundup helped solve the institute's goose problem temporarily. William F. Harvey, a DNR waterfowl biologist, and his crew put half the birds into a truck and hauled them to a new home along the Choptank River in Caroline County.

Some of the birds will set up a permanent residence in Caroline, but Mr. Harvey said others will decide on a short visit and fly right back to their Western Shore retreats. Moving the geese around the state to less developed areas where they aren't as much a nuisance has its problems.

"They will probably start a problem over there," Mr. Harvey said, as he sat with a goose between his knees.

Each bird was banded with a small metal ring on one leg and a flexible plastic collar around the neck with numbers that can be dTC easily read by the many observers who will go looking for the geese later in the year.

Information gathered over the next five years will go far in helping states determine the exact size of migrant and resident geese populations and what can be done to control them, said Jay B. Hestbeck, assistant leader of the Massachusetts Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and coordinator of the national Canada goose study.

"My own impression is that they have been harvesting the migrant population too hard," he said, although he believes Maryland has been responsible in the past two years in placing greater limits on hunting.

The number of complaints about street geese are growing, he said.

At the Pine Ridge Golf Course in Baltimore County, complaints are so common among golfers, said Bret Mosher, assistant golf pro, that the club has begun stringing yellow fishing line along the shoreline so that the geese can't waddle up onto the Loch Raven Reservoir's shores near certain key holes."They make an absolute mess," Mr. Mosher said.

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