Take a Gander at Innovative Way Dogs Stop Geese Problem
Gordon Ligon, co-founder of Goodbye Geese and his Border Collie, Star. Photo by Zynab Al-Timimi
Wayne State University and Goodbye Geese have formed a new collaboration to reduce the campus’ increasing geese population. Goodbye Geese uses trained Border Collies to imitate natural predators such as wolves and urge the geese to migrate to more suitable habitats.
Donna Reincke, associate director of grounds at Wayne State University, is responsible for approximately 200 urban acres of outdoor areas on campus. Reincke’s position is primarily to lead and oversee the maintenance of the university’s grounds and athletic fields.
Reincke explained that a central concern with implementing the geese population management program is safety, not only for the campus community but for the geese as well. Reincke received countless reports regarding the aggressiveness of geese towards students and visitors to Wayne State’s campus. During nesting season, geese would hiss and lunge at people. They also nest in unsafe areas on campus, such as the roofs of buildings where the baby goslings get trapped due to their inability to fly.
One particular place of concern is a popular reflection pool on campus that acts as an active space and meditation area for people to visit and enjoy. “Some people use it for event space or weddings, so we try to keep it clean and tidy,” Reincke says.
However, it is not a safe area for the geese to thrive. Most visitors believe the water feature is excellent for the geese, which is true in a natural setting such as a pond. Yet it leads to a straight drop-off. Reincke explains, “There’s no ramp or exit point for the birds to leave, so we’ve had to save the baby goslings from drowning because they get trapped there.”
The geese have also been a prominent issue from a maintenance standpoint and health-wise for people on campus. One of the most notable drawbacks to the geese’s presence is the unsightly feces they leave all over pathways. Usually, students have to hop around to avoid stepping in the geese’s excrement. Goose droppings pose a health risk to humans, containing bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella, Histoplasmosis, Campylobacter, Coccidia, and Giardia.
One adult goose excretes one pound of stool daily, making them unduly messy. They poop on the athletic fields, which exposes Wayne’s athletes to the bacteria. They also make their mess in the reflection pool, which requires regular cleaning; otherwise, it clogs up the filtration system. As much as people try to avoid it, goose droppings on sidewalks get into buildings on the carpets and can be slip-and-fall hazards on smooth floors. Before partnering with Goodbye Geese, Reincke says that hardly anything was accomplished to address the geese concern. As part of their natural breeding pattern, geese will keep revisiting the same place they were born annually, making sure to bring all their friends and family. Ultimately, this led to rapid population growth to the point where the issue had to be addressed.
Reincke learned about Goodbye Geese through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. They provided her with the necessary information and strategies to help humanely control the geese. Goodbye Geese is careful to follow the natural biology of the geese. There is a period in the summertime when the geese’s feathers start molting, which prevents them from being able to fly. During that period, Goodbye Geese will not herd the geese.
When educating students and faculty members about the geese’s life cycle and habits, they start to become interested. Reincke states, “You’d be surprised how many people have a story about being hissed at by a goose or chased by one. So people understand the issue.” Some people enjoy feeding the geese. So Reincke and her team try to educate them that people’s food is not healthy for the geese. They need the appropriate plants to bear the proper nutrition and be healthy birds. Therefore, Reincke found that educating people about geese was positive for the process. “We are not trying to hurt the geese but rather herd them,” Reincke clarifies. It is a natural approach where no one gets hurt in the operation.
The Goodbye Geese program was remarkably effective last year for Wayne State’s campus. Reincke adds, “When we didn’t have the goose control services in full effect, I would get daily calls about cleaning up excrement and mess all over campus.”
The program offers a variety of package deals that dictate the cost depending on the customer’s unique situation, such as their location, the number of geese on the property, and so on. “Regardless, we found that the cost outweighs the maintenance, repairs, and damages all around campus, including daily cleaning of the pool and water feature, replacing filters from the mess that is collected, removing stains from carpeting, the labor that goes into picking up the feces that accumulates every day was just too expensive,” Reincke says.
Goodbye Geese train and care for the Border Collies they employ. They have their own training facility and all the Border Collies are certified natural goose dogs. The Border Collies arrive at the university every other day, depending on the time of year. Early in the spring, the dogs are present daily since the geese are usually active and searching for a place to nest. “But it’s important to remember that the geese get smart and don’t come back at the same time every day to avoid the dogs. So, the Border Collies must arrive at different times and days to surprise the geese,” Reincke says.
To get the campus community on board with the Goodbye Geese program; Reincke and her team had to communicate the goose problem to the maintenance department and the campus community. Now, workers, students, and faculty have become more receptive to the concept of getting rid of the geese and are bringing awareness to the issue.
Reincke said she was worried some individuals who firmly stand by animal rights might feel negatively towards the idea. “We explain that we have tried to leave the geese alone, but the hardships at hand have escalated and become more complicated. Once people learn more about the human-goose conflict and why it’s a suitable solution for both: the birds and us, they understand,” Reincke observed. It also helps that the Goodbye Geese program is approved by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
Reincke expects to keep their annual partnership with Goodbye Geese. The program starts in early spring and continues through late fall until the end of November.
Reincke suggests that colleges facing a similar issue should start by communicating with their campus about the matters that arise from feeding the geese human food, explaining their life cycle and habits, getting people to understand why there are conflicts between geese and people, and finding the balance of having this natural process to control the problem. The most essential point to remember is speaking out to the college campus to educate them on the subject.
Why are there so many geese at Henry Ford College?
According to Dr. Jessica Mahoney, professor of zoology at Henry Ford College, the geese on Henry Ford College’s campus are nicknamed “Giant Canada Geese” and are considered the largest geese in the world. They mate for life and start breeding at 2-3 years old, which comes into play with their behaviors seen on HFC’s campus.
Mahoney explains that in the 1900s, geese were nearly extinct in the United States due to the absence of regulation laws regarding hunting. The geese require water for their breeding, and most of the wetlands in the U.S. back then were drained on purpose to make farmland. Thus, it left no place for the geese to nest, which resulted in a tremendous decrease in their population. Since then, federal regulations have been established to protect the geese, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). It protects birds that migrate from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico from harassment such as killing, capturing, selling, trading, and transporting any bird species without prior permission from the Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Countless geese enjoy life on Henry Ford College’s campus because they prefer to nest in spacious areas surrounding water, such as low-cut grass, which HFC possesses. Geese favor the ability to notice predators. One of the geese’s main diets is grass, which adds the perfect touch for an ideal habitat.
One of the leading health risks geese bring to people is bacteria from their feces, but Mahoney points out that is only if ingested. Around campus, it is not a concern at all. However, some beaches like Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are common sites where the geese are seen nesting the most. Mahoney mentions, “So, some of their stool gets washed into the water that people tend to swim in, which exposes visitors to dangerous bacteria and shuts down the beaches.”
Geese only tend to chase people when they feel threatened or when protecting their offspring. They give warning signals when intimidated, such as hissing and honking. “I recommend being aware of your surroundings on campus and where geese like to be. Keeping a considerable amount of distance between you and the goose is the most promising way to avoid being attacked. But, when they spread their wings, make sure to back away, maintain eye contact, and get as big as you can to appear threatening to the goose by opening your jacket or waving your arms over your head. Remember never to turn your back because it will keep lunging at you.”
Mahoney states that there is one method that may indirectly help reduce the geese population on HFC’s campus. “We changed our policy about lawn care on campus. If you noticed, numerous signs read, Do not mow pollinator species or natural native grasses. Changing the type of grasses, not mowing or preserving a manicured lawn look, reduces our Carbon footprint and eliminates the ideal habitat for geese.”
Mahoney has heard of the Goodbye Geese program in addition to programs that haze the geese using loudspeakers. “It’s a neat idea because the whole point is to encourage the departing of geese before they begin nesting,” Mahoney observes; thus, giving the geese ample time to find a new location before nesting season.
Gordon Stewert Ligon is the Founder and Operations Manager of Goodbye Geese. He handles all aspects of the business with his wife, Nichole Cross. Gordon and Nichole started the business six years ago working with Metro Detroit businesses, mainly focusing on public parks, apartment buildings, homeowner associations, and corporate facilities. Over the years, Goodbye Geese noticed that climate change has affected geese. Ligon explains, “They are traditionally migratory birds that show up seasonally. But recently, we have seen geese start to stick around all year rather than migrating south as a flock.” He mentions that approximately 20 to 30 percent of geese stay in the same place year-round due to climate change.
In terms of effectiveness, Goodbye Geese uses several methods to scare the geese, such as dog hazing, which is the most effective but leans towards the more expensive side. Another deterrent method is using a noise maker because the geese hear it as a threat signal and get sensory overload when utilized for numerous weeks. However, one downside to this method is that the geese may get used to noise. That is why dogs are more effective most of the time. Border Collies do not have the instinct to hurt the geese because they are used to herding stock such as cows and sheep on farmland. They keep a low crouch, tuck their tail, and stalk the geese to mimic the stance and posture of a coyote or wolf. Ligon adds, “The geese see the Border Collies as canine predators, which makes geese assume that the place has become infested with wolves, leaving them with no choice but to leave the area.” It is important to note that the success of the program varies depending on the year.
Border Collies are from the border region between Scotland and Greenland. They are widely considered the smartest and most effective dogs for farm chores. Ligon learned about Border Collies from his parents, who are competition-level sheepdog handlers. They train these dogs for competitions all over the US.
A company called “Geese Beliefs,” started by Dave Marks in New York City, was the first to use dogs against geese. Ligon mentions, “Dave bought his first dog for the company from my father and proposed his idea to him.” Ligon’s mother traded and sold Border Collies for her career in goose control at locations like golf courses and Air Force bases. So, Ligon grew up handling Border Collies in Virginia, moved to Michigan, and started the Goodbye Geese business with his wife.
Ligon has three Border Collies, and it usually takes only one to get the job done. He and his wife take care of the Border Collies at home. In the future, he hopes to build a corporate facility and have the staff handle them.
At first, Border Collies start with basic obedience training. Afterward, they start practicing with ducks in a contained pond. The ducks do not fly because their flight feathers split, so the dogs train by swimming after them in a closed space. However, training them from scratch takes around six months to a year.
Depending on the year, the Border Collies average at least once a day for five days a week to haze the geese from a college campus the size of Wayne State University. “We communicate with the maintenance staff and adjust our schedule pattern to match when the geese tend to show up,” Ligon says.