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Some Use Decoys Of Dogs, Others Damage Eggs

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(Credit: AP)

(Credit: AP)

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SALISBURY, Md. (AP) — Canada geese looking for a free lunch on the putting greens of an Elk’s Lodge golf course in Salisbury have a new obstacle in their path.

Strategically placed on the nine-hole course are silhouettes of dogs, designed to pivot with the wind, making them seem more real to the birds. The course has three of the wooden decoys at this time and places them on greens near the water.

“They have worked. I was not a believer until I saw it with my own eyes,” said David Reichenberg, the course manager.

The golf course, next to the Salisbury Zoological Park, has ponds and grasses that make it attractive to geese grazing. The birds’ droppings disrupt putting, and the birds eat up grasses by the root, Reichenberg said.

Beyond the golf course’s try at trickery, controlling the population of nonmigrating geese is no easy task on Delmarva and across the U.S. The birds are prolific poopers, producing a pound of nitrogen-rich droppings a day. They face few natural predators and are protected from humans under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. As a result, the birds commonly live to be 15-25 years.

Late April and into May is when geese eggs hatch in Maryland, said Patricia Allen, an information and education program manager with the state Department of Natural Resources.

At this time, mothers protecting their young will become more aggressive toward humans and people’s pets. In the summer months, the goslings will go through their molting stage, a time where large contingents of geese will congregate near bodies of water.

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Control methods

The Salisbury Zoo has controlled the geese population in City Park by addling their eggs, said Joel Hamilton, zoo director. This consists of puncturing the eggs with a pinhole so the eggs never hatch.

“We have these geese who have decided, ‘Oh, here’s a good food source.’ They lost their desire for migration,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said the addling program, which began about five years ago, has been successful.

“The count (before the addling program) was astronomical: 400 birds on just our stretch. Now we’re down to 108 nests last year,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton urges people not to feed the geese. First, it makes them feel welcome. Second, foods such as bread aren’t natural in a goose’s herbivore diet and contain high protein levels known to cause growth defects in the bird’s wings.

In Maryland, nonmigrating Canada geese date back to the 1930s, according to DNR. At that time, giant birds were transported from the Midwest to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, where they were released and used as decoy flocks.

In the decades that followed, the state’s nonmigrating geese population exploded. Because of control methods, the birds’ population is on the decline and has a population of 49,000, according to the spring survey.

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What you can do at home

Federal law prohibits homeowners and businesses from physically harming the geese. However, people can obtain permits allowing for euthanization or geese removal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services office, Allen said.

She had several tips for nonlethal means of shooing away problem geese.

First, if geese are entering a property by walking on it, homeowners can plant shrubbery or allow grasses to grow 10-14 inches high. This simple deterrent is sometimes enough.

Second, geese love to eat Kentucky blue grass, Allen said. They aren’t fond of another variety: fescue grass.

Another idea is to apply chemical repellents, she said. One variety, a grape extract, is safe for people and pets, but makes the grass taste bad for the geese. Yet another option is using noisemakers to scare off the geese, although that doesn’t work as well in an urban setting.

Hamilton said he’s skeptical the wood decoys at the Elk’s golf course will be effective once geese catch on, but he’s rooting for the decoys to work.

Reichenberg said there has been a 95 percent reduction in the number of geese on the greens since the decoys were installed about two weeks ago. He said a member made the decoys after hearing of their use at several PGA Tour courses.

“We’re hearing from people the trick is to move them around. We put a black and white plastic bag in their mouth to make them look more ferocious,” Reichenberg said.

The Daily Times of Salisbury

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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