What's good for the (Canada) goose isn't really good for Denver
An adult goose releases approximately one pound of poop every single day. This fact stays relatively unnoticed until wintertime, when thousands of Canada geese -- seemingly overnight -- come out of the woodwork and waddle onto your property and into your parking spot. Why are there so many? The truth is that it's easy for geese to find reasons to stay. The two best are food and shelter, most easily provided by well-groomed private properties such as golf courses that ooze healthy grass (lunch) and small but tidy ponds (shelter).
And with few natural predators left in the Denver area, geese have taken to comfortable city spots rather than secluded forest hangouts. Today's geese, says goose wrangler Terry Hardey, are moving to the suburbs.
"When we design a golf course, it might as well be designed for the geese, and the same goes for almost any area with water and grass and without coyotes," says Hardey.
Since 2002, the sixty-year-old Hardey has owned and maintained T.A.R.P. Border Collies, a business devoted to humanely scaring geese off the property of a rotating series of clients. "The grass is level, and they can see if any threat is coming toward them, though there aren't many left. They've learned pretty easily that they can basically sidestep us whenever they want."
Add snow to this picture, and the sight is currently a common one in Denver's daily travels and rearview mirrors.
The Canada goose, with its easily distinguishable black-and-white face, is the most common and well-known contributor to the goose nation, but it is not the only one. And while other kinds of geese, such as the snow goose, migrate through Colorado and then farther south during the winter, many Canada geese -- a less sturdy, more lazy brand of geese -- were born here, raised here and have no reason to leave.
In most cases, geese attempt to hatch their own young in the same area where they were hatched, meaning that if they are allowed to grow up in Denver, they will also raise their young in Denver and add to the thousands of geese living here. "But the other half don't have a clue what Canada is, and they really don't care," Hardey says. "This time of year we see thousands, and it seems like they just fly in overnight. We are up to our eyeballs in them, and we're just getting more."
One of the largest factors contributing to the number of geese blocking your car at Whole Foods is the fact that, since 1918, the Canada geese and its friends have been protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. According to Hardey, the local resident goose population is growing at a rate of approximately 100 percent every five years, and those geese are growing smarter -- or at least more used to human antics -- at roughly the same pace.
"The East Coast's population far out-strips what we have here, and we look to them for ideas on how to handle these birds," she says. "It's becoming difficult as they become so city-wise and get used to all the doodads we put out to distract and scare them, like balloons and plastic swans and mesh fences. They get used to them and realize that it's moving, but it's not alive and is no threat."
The most constant threat, then, are individuals like Hardey and her co-workers, three border collies in safety vests who are trained to scare the hell out of a goose without actually hurting it. Hardey drives between 80 and 100 miles a day ("I've had a lot of vehicles," she says) to seven different clients, where she unloads one or more of her carefully trained dogs and creates the lasting image of a natural predator in the goose's mind.
Hardey's dogs are expensive, in large part because of their training. When a goose is in sight, the dogs chase it and its friends until they get the message that there are safer areas to settle down in. Because geese have developed a knack for calling humanity's bluff, the exercise is a frequent one. Hardey and her border collies change their timing but return on a daily basis in order to firmly convince any area geese that this spot is not a safe one for them, their poop or their cranky nesting season.
"I would be concerned with little kids approaching them any time of the year because they can be very territorial, though their nesting season in February and March is the toughest," Hardey says. "Even outside of that tine, they can fly into somebody's face or knock somebody over. And their bites are very bruising, to the point where every year you see some article about some person being attacked by an angry goose."
In Colorado, other humane methods of goose control include addling the eggs, a process through which a trained representative covers new eggs in oil in order to prevent a gosling's continued growth into a goose. In the past, some cities have just moved large numbers of geese to others, but Hardey says many, including Colorado Springs and Grand Junction, will no longer allow this.
"It's not like they can be housebroken,'' she says. "Frankly, the financial burden is more than anyone can handle right now, and it gets to the point where we're just shoveling, if we're even doing that. But at a certain point, fixing and cleaning after them is actually more expensive than dealing with the birds."
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