Stay-at-home Geese Something To Shoot For


Non-migratory Honkers Populating Carroll

January 19, 1992|By Bill Burton

Carroll, Baltimore and Harford counties will never be another Eastern Shore when it comes to waterfowl hunting, but . . .

At some timein the future, Canada goose shooting might not be uncommon. Ten years ago, the suggestion of enough honkers for hunting in Carroll -- themost inland of the three counties -- would have been grounds to question one's sanity.

But no more. The goose situation is changing in the Atlantic flyway, which covers states the length of the Atlantic Coast. The Delmarva Peninsula -- especially the Delaware and northern and mid-Maryland sectors -- remains the best bet for waterfowl hunters, but things areimproving on this side of the Chesapeake.

When one thinks of Canadas, the high, long, V-shaped lines of migrating fowl with their stirring honking calls comes to mind.

Theirs is truly the call of the wild, something akin to the howl of the wolf or the cry of the loon.

Honks are already being heard in Carroll County, especially at Liberty Reservoir, occasionally in the Piney Run Reservoir, and at some farmlands with ponds not too far distant.

Their calls duplicate those of the migrants that come down the coast to winter on the EasternShore, but chances are they aren't fowl-hatched and reared in the desolate, barren, tundra county of northeastern Canada. They are part of continually growing flocks of non-migratory honkers.

Already along some inland sectors of their routes, these birds have been given other names by non-hunting observers, few of which are complimentary. Nuisance geese, they're called by many -- and that's among their morelaudatory monikers.

They don't migrate; no long flights to the traditional summering grounds of their truly wild counterparts. Most stick around their new homes year-round. They nest here, rear their young here and winter here.

Why move? They have things easy -- water,food and living space.

In our flyway, they represent from one-half to one-third of the coastal population that at times has approached1 million, though the sum numbers less in this time of disappointinghatches in the far north.

The Eastern Shore gets the lion's share. In the November inventory taken through aerial surveys by the Department of Natural Resources, 377,666 were counted in Maryland, of which 322,758 were observed on the Eastern Shore. The count was down slightly, possibly because weather conditions were more moderate than usual, prompting some fowl to linger farther north.

But the number ofgeese on the Western Shore is climbing. Nearly 11,000 were counted west of the Chesapeake, with 4,400 in the upper Patuxent River area ofAnne Arundel and Prince George's counties. Another 3,600 were scattered throughout northern Harford, Baltimore and Carroll counties.

Though some flocks alone on the Eastern Shore contain that many birds,it reflects a fair number of geese that have settled down far from their usual haunts, which prompts the questions of where they came from, and why?

Most waterfowl biologists brush aside suggestions thathonkers are getting lazy and no longer want to take the several thousand mile trip to such places as the Ungava Peninsula in northern Quebec.

They view these birds as creatures that have lost their basicwandering instincts. Their origin is attributed to the decision in 1935 to ban the use of tollers, captive geese used by hunters of that day to call their wild counterparts within shooting range.

Tollerswere kept in barns or pens, tied when afield, and almost treated like one of the family -- coveted because they were exceptionally good at luring wild birds to shooting fields because their presence suggested safety.

When they could no longer be used, most were set free, but they usually had lost their natural desire to migrate. Many tollers stayed put and hatched their young, often mating with wild birds that subsequently remained with them.

At first, their growing numbers went undetected, then as the population increased, they still weren't considered a problem. But a dozen years ago a population explosion was evident; so were complaints.

Their droppings littered golf courses and lawns of estates, farmers found they increasingly fed on their crops and some took over swimming pools and ponds -- anything with water.

The first serious problems developed in New Jersey, New York and New England. In many smaller New England towns, their presence ruined swimming and picnic facilities at community parks.

The droppings polluted waters, and their aggressive, protective instincts intimidated park visitors. Gradually, the problem has been moving southward.

Larry Hindman, who handles waterfowl management for the Department of Natural Resources, said numerous complaints now come fromthe Loch Raven area of Baltimore County, and nuisance geese seem to be mating on the Eastern Shore.

Resulting problems have prompted special regulations in some states to allow their hunting early and late in season, outside regular goose season dates. The earlier and later seasons help prevent killing of migrants birds.

In northern Pennsylvania, the birds create so many problems that some farmers and landowners pay hunters and outfitters small fees to hunt their propertyto get rid of them -- the reverse of the standard Eastern Shore practice of paying expensive leases to accommodate hunters.

So, more geese are coming to Carroll County, but don't celebrate yet. There aretwo sides to the coin.

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