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YOUNGSTOWN Honk, if you like the mess



Published: Mon, September 3, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



They can shake tree branches with their beaks to get apples. One even walked from door to door to gander at schoolchildren walking the halls.

By PAUL WHEATLEY

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Canada geese have many nicknames.

Rats with wings.

Flying carp.

Walking garbage disposals: Grass goes in one end; what's left goes out the other end.

Whatever we call them, they're thriving. Estimates from last spring found about 140,000 Canada geese in Ohio. That's a giant increase since the 1940s, when the black-headed waterfowl were thought to be extinct.

They flock to our golf courses and parks, leaving behind 2-3 inch, cigar-shaped land mines of waste. They waddle across our roads, holding up traffic and seemingly grinning at the same time. They beg like dogs when we hold out bread and hiss like snakes when we get too close to their hatchlings.

"There's no check on the population," said Dave Sherman, waterfowl biologist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife. "Every egg they lay, most of them hatch."

In the Mahoning Valley, geese gallivant in swarms at Kent State University Trumbull Campus and at Mill Creek Metropolitan Park.

Techniques: Mike Dunch, KSU's building and grounds superintendent, uses a couple of techniques to ward off geese.

His crew ties glittering tape to poles or trees which is supposed to resemble fire. They also spray a liquid that geese don't seem to like on grass.

But these are only temporary fixes.

Geese adapt to the tape or rain washes away the spray. Then they're back, fouling up sidewalks and parking lots.

"They do look nice," admitted Dunch. "But they leave a mess."

Crews at KSU and Mill Creek regularly use tractors equipped with sprayers or sweepers to clean up after their feathered foes.

Custodians at West Boulevard Elementary School use the old-fashioned shovel method.

Concerns: West Boulevard Principal Don Robinson said geese flock to his school yard every year to gorge on crab apples.

Robinson's biggest concern is pupils' playing on a playground dotted with geese waste.

He said he closes off the playground to pupils if the birds make a mess of things.

And while Sherman advises caution around such waste, he said tests have yet to find any major health hazard associated with it.

"We try to peacefully co-exist with them," Robinson said as geese mingle outside his office window.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife reintroduced Canada geese to the state in 1956. Sherman said geese populations have surged because of how they adapt despite annual hunting seasons.

Robinson has seen this adaptivity in action.

He's watched geese shake tree branches with their beaks to get apples. And last year he had a curious bird walk from door to door to gander at children walking the halls.

That particular goose was relocated.

Overfeeding: Courtenay Willis, a biology professor at Youngstown State University, blames overfeeding for geese overpopulation. For example, she said, farmers used to leave food in their fields for geese during winter months.

"Now their numbers are up so high that it's really hard to control them," she said.

Sherman and other ODNR specialists are testing the effectiveness of chasing geese from roosting spots at night with lasers. Tests are expected to run through November.

Until then, Sherman said, the best way to control Canada geese is through hunting.

Ohio is still in the process of setting the state goose hunting season dates, hours and bag limits.

wheatley@vindy.com




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