Two geese swim on Lake Kittamaqundi in Columbia, Maryland.
The Columbia Association has worked to manage the Canada goose population at Lake Kittamaqundi and elsewhere. Photo by Matthew Liptak.

Once a profound presence at lakes in Columbia, resident geese are finding the grass really is greener on the other side. For years the Columbia Association has been managing their goose population on community lakes, and for years the geese have been looking to increase their own territory.

One of the most effective methods of control have been working dogs like border collies Lotus, Levi, and Ben who are led by handlers from Maryland Geese Control, located in Westminster. They have been patrolling Columbia’s waters, and are helping make the community’s lakes less attractive to congregating flocks of Canada geese.

Dogs and their handlers in boats “police multiple sites, including Lakes Elkhorn, Wilde, and Kittmaqundi every day, 365 days a year,” said Nicholas Mooneyhan, director of open space operations for the Columbia Association. “Some of those locations are multiple visits. They will go out in canoes, swim after the geese, run after the geese. It’s quite remarkable, and it’s a really humane, effective way of keeping (geese) off our property.”

Mooneyhan said the goose challenge has been ongoing in Columbia for over two decades. Media reports from 2012 related that two years after the previously hired dogs had stopped working the lakes the geese returned in abundance once again.

Today’s management of geese can end up being especially relevant at this time of year, when Canada geese nest and grow their families. Since the hatchlings can’t fly, the border collies aren’t allowed after them, but the geese are encouraged not to nest in active areas, Mooneyhan said.

Later, when dogs do chase the geese again, the birds fly, seeking friendlier fields and waters. Some Columbia nature lovers may be sad to see them go, but others, not so much.

The geese create an abundance of goose droppings, which often get smeared over Columbia’s many public walkways. Pressure washing is done, but complaints are steady, Mooneyhan said. The water pollution and danger of E. coli the droppings can create are also unappealing to many of Columbia’s human residents.

A trip to Columbia’s Lake Kittamaqundi’s pier on Monday found human visitors enjoying sitting in the grassy areas there to do yoga, strolling on the paths, fishing, and using the playground at nearby Bailey Park. Much of that might not be possible without the dog’s regular visits.

Only two geese were visible on the lake Monday afternoon. The pair seemed highly sensitive to a pedestrian walking their dog nearby, immediately retreating to the water. One park visitor said they weren’t fond of the geese, because his own dog ate the droppings and would often get sick.

Another visitor thought the management program was effective in allowing human residents to enjoy the manmade lake.

Heather Duncan from Columbia was enjoying the lakeside as her child used the playground.

“I haven’t seen one goose in the past two days,” she said. “I’ve been here twice. The geese obviously are being managed. I like seeing wildlife and wildlife being able to act naturally, but geese poop does become a problem, and geese aren’t that nice.

It is an issue that impacts many Maryland communities. Resident Canada geese are actually considered a subspecies of migratory Canada geese, Maryland Department of Natural Resources waterfowl project manager Josh Homyack said in a recent interview. There are approximately one million migratory Canada Geese that come to Maryland each year. The year-round resident geese number is about 70,000.

The resident geese were introduced by Americans many decades ago.

“It’s a big problem,“ Homyack said. “In urban and suburban areas it’s harder to control the problem, which is typically conducted through regulated sport hunting. These are all (descendants of) captive-reared birds …those birds are here because man brought them here – captive birds that were released in refuges. You used to be able to buy a pair of (Canada) geese and keep them on your pond if you wanted to.”

Homyack said generally the resident Canada geese are larger than migratory birds, with higher reproductive capacity because they don’t have to expend energy on migration. Although there could be a very small amount of overlap between the two goose species, he said, tens of thousands of years of evolution drive the migratory birds to their nesting grounds 1,000 miles north of Montreal, Canada each year.

Locally, the regular not-so-wild goose chase in Columbia shows no signs of changing, as humans continue to enjoy their constantly-reclaimed waterfront, and the geese are ever vigilant to find an opportunity to get a new webbed-foot hold on the lakes.

“Every homeowners association that has a pond likely has some type of mitigation efforts,” Mooneyhan said. “It’s the same geese. Everybody has to do their own thing (goose mitigation), and if you’re the one who’s not doing it, you just gave them a place to go to.”

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