It has been six days now since about 400 Canada Geese that had been living on the lake at Prospect Park, Brooklyn, were rounded up, packed two or three to a crate, trucked away, and gassed to death by the United States Department of Agriculture – all without public notice.  This continues the trend in New York City, started last summer, of killing as many resident Canada Geese as possible, ostensibly to make aviation safer in the wake of the “Miracle on the Hudson.”  Opinions have been running strong on both sides of the great goose killing debate and a post about the killings on the New York Times City Room blog garnered nearly 700 comments.

This blog post, of course, will not decide the issue one way or the other.  Personally, I am opposed to the mass killing of Canada Geese, not just because it is callous and cruel, but because it seems pointless.  Even if the killings temporarily lower the population of Canada Geese it is only a matter of time before the population builds back up, necessitating another cull.  Also, the local geese don’t seem to fly great distances or at great heights, so it doesn’t seem to me like they endanger planes.  Instead, they usually make short flights from favored feeding grounds like Greenwood Cemetery to favored roosting spots like the Prospect Park Lake.

It is migratory geese that were reportedly involved in the downing of flight 1549 that led to the “Miracle on the Hudson” and it is migratory geese that are not around at this time of year, breeding as they do in the arctic.  Though I don’t know of any studies that have been done, my money is on local, “city-wise” geese knowing better than to get in the path of a jet while birds flying in from the far north might not know how to react when confronted by a giant steel missile moving at hundreds of miles per hour.

No one seems to be advocating killing migratory Canada Geese or, worse, Brant, even though they spend months in the area every year.  No one is even advocating rounding up and killing Mute Swans to protect planes, even though swans are much larger than geese and would likely do even more damage to a plane then geese.  Canada Geese are an easy target because they frequent grassy areas that people create in abundance.  They then poop and people don’t like poop on their nice grassy golf courses, playing fields, and cemeteries.  In fact, it seems that aviation safety is a cover story for those who want to kill geese on general principle.  How can I make such a statement without some evidence?  Well, how about this, from Wikipedia?*

Since 1999, The United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services agency has been engaged in lethal culls of Canada Geese primarily in urban or densely populated areas. The agency responds to municipalities or private land owners, such as golf courses, who find the geese obtrusive or object to their waste.

After all, it might be difficult to convince the public of the need to kill geese because of poop but once one says that geese are threatening the lives of anyone who flies into or out of New York City, well, what kind of monster would be opposed to removing the threat?

Birders have been remarkably silent on the issue of Canada Goose gassing.  Last year, when about 1,900 geese were rounded up in New York City there was barely a peep from the birding community and this year there has been no outrage expressed on any of the listservs.  This might have to do with birders often viewing Canada Geese as a trash bird not worthy of interest.  The lack of response might also have to do with the rather unnatural nature (if that isn’t an oxymoron) of resident Canada Geese.  You see before people started catching, breeding, and releasing Canada Geese they didn’t breed around here.  Wikipedia says:

By the early 20th century, over-hunting and loss of habitat in the late 1800s and early 1900s had resulted in a serious decline in the numbers of this bird in its native range…With improved game laws  and habitat recreation and preservation programs, their populations have recovered in most of their range, although some local populations, especially of the subspecies occidentalis, may still be declining.

In recent years, Canada Geese populations in some areas have grown substantially, so much so that many consider them pests (for their droppings, the bacteria in their droppings, noise and confrontational behavior). This problem is partially due to the removal of natural predators and an abundance of safe, man-made bodies of water (such as on golf courses, public parks and beaches, and in planned communities).

We removed predators, made ideal habitat, and repeatedly introduced captive-raised birds that did not know to migrate and now we have a problem which we want to resolve by killing the geese?  This is just not right.  Is it keeping us safe?  Maybe from goose poop…

*Though, to be fair, a paper that I found on the USDA website indicate that bird-plane collisions are of serious concern to the USDA (link is a PDF).

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.