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Canada geese are increasingly saying yes to Chicago in the winter

Weighing up to 20 pounds, they dominate local waters with loud calls and dramatic landings.

They rise into the air in the striking V formations that have become synonymous with the fall.

And, yes, they leave their droppings — a pound or more per day per adult bird — on golf courses, sports fields, parks and schoolyards.

Love them or hate them, Canada geese are getting big in Illinois, where their resident (mostly non-migratory) population has grown from about 70,000 birds in 1997 to about 120,000 today, and migratory birds settle in for extended winters.

“We’ve actually seen a very large increase in (migratory) geese wintering in Chicago, which was initially disconcerting because if you had a choice to go hang out in Louisiana or Tennessee for the winter, why would you stay in Chicago?” said Mike Ward, a professor of natural resources and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Ward believes the geese would benefit from conserving the energy needed for traditional migration and avoiding the hunters they have to contend with in rural areas.

A Canada goose preens near Montrose Beach in Chicago on November 10, 2022.

If that sounds like a difficult strategy for a goose, Ward advises to keep in mind that migrating Canada geese can handle the challenges of urban bike lanes, high-speed traffic and hungry polar bears—sometimes all in one week.

“Like most birds, they are capable of making choices and decisions, learning and acting on the information they gather,” Ward said.

Thousands more migratory Canada geese are wintering in Chicago than in the 1990s, Ward said, and he suspects other cities in the state are also seeing increases.

While the overall population of Canada geese has remained relatively stable in Illinois over the past 15 years, at about 100,000 to 140,000, population shifts mean that numbers in some urban and suburban areas may be on the rise, according to Ben Williams, project manager for urban geese. waterfowl for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The suburbs, in particular, are a sweet spot for resident geese, he said.

“People like their golf courses, they like the homeowner association with the pond and the water bodies. And they create perfect habitat for Canada geese,” Williams said.

Another bonus: humans crowd out natural predators, making it pretty safe.

Resident geese can serve as beacons for migrating geese, looking from the sky and seeing where members of their species have found food and safety, Williams said.

Some believe that climate change is playing a role in the survival of migrating geese in northern states, but Ward doesn’t think it’s a major factor. Winters, while slightly warmer on average, can still get cold enough to threaten geese. And extreme weather events associated with climate change could create problems for geese that winter in Illinois, Ward said.

On the plus side, geese that need open water can wait out short freezes or move to Michigan rivers or lakes that don’t always freeze over completely. They have been known to use cooling ponds at power generators to stay warmer in the winter, Williams said.

In some ways, the Canada goose is a great conservation success story. According to the technical guide, the birds were nearly driven out of much of North America in the early 1900s due to commercial hunting, egg harvesting and loss of wetlands Managing Canada Geese in an Urban Environment.

The giant Canada goose, once abundant in Illinois, was thought to be extinct. rediscovered in Minnesota in 1963 by Harold Hansona research biologist with the Illinois Natural History Service.

Captive breeding programs began, and states where Canada geese once roamed wanted to release some into the wild.

The number of Canada geese first rose steadily and then increased more rapidly in the early 1990s, according to Paul Curtis, a professor of wildlife science and management at Cornell University.

“We kind of created the problem,” Curtis said.

By the early 2000s, human-goose conflicts were in the news in Chicago, with complaints of geese flying into fountains, stopping cars and eating vegetables at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Some of these problems have since resolved themselves. In 2009, the Naperville Park District put up life-sized plywood cutouts of dogs to discourage geese from congregating on golf courses.

A dog on a leash watches for Canada geese near a Foster Avenue light on the North Side of Chicago on November 10, 2022.

Kevin Carlson, the Park District’s director of golf, said the cutouts eventually stopped working, but natural predators, including coyotes, picked up the slack by eating the eggs before they could hatch.

For those who can’t rely on coyotes, the Chicago area is home to a number of goose chasers, including Rescue Me Goose Chasing in Orland Park, which uses Australian Shepherds to chase geese away from overpopulated areas.

Owner Tom Guilfoyle said his clients have included a church and a new retirement community with a pond. In the spring, he gets calls from corporations with attractive grounds and dozens of geese, some with nests to guard.

Nesting geese hiss at humans or fly at their heads in an attack that can be unnerving, especially to those unfamiliar with this behavior.

Williams, who contacts the Illinois Department of Natural Resources about Canada geese, said he has encountered similar situations.

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“(Canada geese) get used to some of these suburban areas and decide that right in front of the post office or in front of a restaurant is the right place for a nest — and then they decide to aggressively defend that nest. This is a fairly common phenomenon,” he said.

Williams said that sometimes simply harassing geese by driving them off their land can force them to settle elsewhere. Changing your landscaping can also help; Geese like mowed lawns and easy access to water.

Those with more persistent problems can obtain free government permits that allow owners to prevent goose eggs from hatching by coating them with corn oil or shaking them. Williams said Illinois residents with goose problems can contact him at 847-608-3177 or Ben.Williams@illinois.gov.

Human-goose relations seem to have calmed down in the Chicago area since the early 2000s, but Ward noted that the Canada goose is still “the most hated bird species in Illinois.”

Now that the geese are flocking to urban and suburban areas in Champaign, Peoria and Springfield, those regions are seeing more conflict.

“Champagne is what Chicago was 20 years ago when we were trying to figure out how to manage some of these populations and how to live with them,” Williams said.



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