When too many waterfowl make the water foul

October 19, 2011|By Jim Kennedy

It's that time of year when the Canada geese are on the move. The early October nip in the air seemed to have rousted the big birds into the air and put them into their V-formations for another season.

When it comes down to it, I rather like the visiting Canada geese. They leave northern Canadian places like the Ungava Peninsula (which I include only because Ungava is fun to say; similarly, the genus name for toads is fun to say, Bufo; certainly there are others, but I digress), show up in these parts providing sport for hunters, painters, photographers and birdwatchers. Then, just about the time of year when they would become nuisances as winter turns to spring, they go back north.

Unfortunately, they don't all head north in the springtime. A generation or so ago, a few goose enthusiasts purchased some semi-domesticated birds, which, as water fowl are prone to doing, procreated and gave rise local, semi-wild, and later truly wild, populations of Canada geese that had no notion that they don't belong here in the summertime.

Like lottery winners who stay year-round in a resort town, initially they were little more than curiosities, but geese are well suited to these parts, particularly the little community ponds and stormwater management facilities. From a distance, this doesn't seem like much of a problem, but anyone who has visited a pond taken over by a colony of non-migratory Canada geese can attest that they're not the cleanest creatures, and they're not particularly concerned about what bodily functions they perform in places where they'll also be eating.

In other words, these water fowl make the water foul very quickly once the weather turns warm. Goose waste litters the land around ponds, and gives their waters a strange green color. The result is a pond that once may have provided recreation in the form of canoe or paddleboat riding, fishing and bird watching is generally reduced to a goose feeding facility. More about the matter of feeding the fowl feeding presently.

Recognizing the damage caused by creatures that don't belong here at a certain time of year is a problem not just for people but also for the wild things that do belong here. Several years ago, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources opened up a resident Canada goose season, which runs generally in early September, early in the traditional time of year for hunting, but presumably before the more ecologically fragile population of migrating Canada geese arrives. To a degree, this has met with some success. While resident populations of Canada geese remain (and remain too large for the environs they've occupied), they appear to have been thinned out a bit, at least at some of the ponds near where I live in Forest Hill.

I've also noticed an increase in the fox population, which probably isn't a coincidence as goose eggs and chicks are ideal fox fodder.

As for the matter of feeding the geese, which I mentioned previously, it's actually what prompted me to think about this whole business of water fouling water fowl. A few weeks back, I tapped out a few words about the nice renovation work done at Friends Pond in Forest Hill and made mention that it would make access to the pond easier for anglers as well as those interested in feeding the ducks and geese.

It didn't take long for someone from the county to let me know that the practice of feeding ducks and geese at community ponds and in parks all around Harford County is strictly frowned upon. Like me, they have concerns about the water fouling that takes place when there are too many geese and ducks.

By and large, feeding wild animals is a bad idea, be theybears, geese or backyard critters. Of course, bears are cute so it's never hard to find people dumb enough to feed them in our parks. As a result, more than a few people end up being injured. Raccoons, possums and rats don't necessarily get handouts the way bears do, but if you put out bird seed, or leave pet food outside, or leave garbage cans unsecured, you might as well be feeding them.

Throwing bread to ducks and geese may seem harmless enough, but it results in them congregating in places where there isn't enough natural food to support large populations, places like Bynum Pond in Bel Air. Too much food for too many animals results in too much of something known for running quickly through a goose.

So next time you're tempted to feed the geese, stop and think about the mess you'll be making.

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