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How to control Canadian geese in your Charleston pond

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Canada geese exiting the koi pond at the TTC Horticulture Program when a motion-sensor sprinkler is activated.

Despite the name, Canada geese aren’t going back to Canada.

This time of the year, they’re pecking at grass, lounging in ponds or stopping traffic with their adorable goslings. In April, the female laid her eggs. She put several in a nest over the period of a week and the male protected her. If you walked up on her, his pterodactyl-like shadow will descend upon you.

I’ve seen a gander chase unsuspecting victims into ponds or send them running for their lives. He will beat you with his wings or bite you with a fangless beak and twist. It probably hurts.

Their droppings cover lawns and parking lots that stain the pavement and turn a sidewalk into a game of hopscotch. Even more problematic is the potential pollution. Canada geese can expel one pound of feces per bird every day. This is a significant amount of nutrients introduced into ponds. Higher levels of nitrogen and phosphorus increase algae blooms that are not only unsightly but can contribute to fish kills.

More critically, bird feces can introduce coliform bacteria, a harmful, disease-causing organism. Of course, the more geese there are, the greater the problem. And here’s the bad news:

They’re coming back next year.

Once a pair nests, they’re likely to return to the same area the following year. Canada geese flocks grow year after year as the young tend to nest near where they were hatched. Unless you do something, you’ll be playing a lot more sidewalk hopscotch.

Preventing Canada geese from making your pond their home starts with harassment. In March, when couples are pairing up, you can convince them to go elsewhere with loud noises or other means. Border collies have been very effective but in some urban settings, like a college campus, this isn’t feasible. Taller grass, shorelines of boulders and fencing around ponds can help.

If harassment doesn’t work, you can obtain a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prevent the eggs from hatching. This will require chasing the female off the nest, avoiding the gander and coating the eggs with corn oil. Good luck to whoever volunteers for this mission. But even if the eggs don’t hatch, the problem is that the happy couple will likely be back next year.

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If harassment or prevention hasn’t worked, you have two options left. One, you can obtain a permit for lethal control. Canada geese are federally protected. In fact, all birds are federally protected except for feral pigeons, European starlings and house sparrows. A federal depredation permit is required for removal.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) has obtained a special Canada goose permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that authorizes certain resident Canada goose management and control activities that are normally prohibited. The permit authorizes SCDNR to issue individual permits to landowners, homeowners associations and other legal entities for the lethal take of Canada geese and their nests and eggs during the period from March 10-Aug. 31. To obtain this permit, please contact 803-734-3887.

Your second option is to work with the USDA. For several weeks during the molt when Canada geese lose their flight feathers, flocks are limited to smaller areas. During this time the geese are easier to catch. For a fee, USDA will corral the Canada geese and euthanize them.

After testing to assure acceptability, the meat will be processed and donated to local food banks. This is effective in most environments and prevents return nesting from previous years. And it provides food to those in need.

For more information on obtaining permits, contact the USDA at 866-487-3297.

This solution takes the place of the limited number of predators in urban areas. In nature, foxes and bobcats would ordinarily keep Canada goose populations in check.

At the Trident Technical College Horticulture Program, we have a 2,000-gallon koi pond that has turned into a Canada goose spa. If we chase them off, they return five minutes later. Our solution is harassment. When they enter the pond, a motion-sensor sprinkler turns on.

Combined with the sound, the blast of water sends them elsewhere. While this isn’t a solution for retaining ponds, it works for our small pond.

Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, e-mail him at

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