Franklin College study to seek peace with Canada geese

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FRANKLIN, Ind. – A $250,000 research grant will allow the Franklin College biology department to search for ways to better manage the Canada geese population across the country.

The grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the largest research grant Franklin College has ever received. Wildlife Biology Professor Ben O’Neal hopes the 4-year study will allow humans to live in peace with the often aggressive birds.

“Wildlife is no longer restricted to just these remote sanctuaries,” O’Neal said. “They’re among us, we’re sharing the same landscape.”

Over the next four years, O’Neal and his student researchers will capture Canada geese and fit them with tracking devices. O’Neal and his students will observe and record the birds’ movements, reproduction and other habits. At the end of the study, the team will publish and present their data so agencies like the Department of Natural Resources can consider new policies for managing the growing geese population.

“Providing some knowledge about how you can interact with the birds safely, how you can deter them from nesting in unwanted areas,” O’Neal said. “And our students will have a part in that outreach and education part as well.”

Canada geese are nearing the end of their nesting season, when the birds are the most aggressive and defensive toward the humans they share territory with. Confrontations between humans and geese are common this time of year in neighborhoods and strip mall parking lots. O’Neal says such confrontations will only continue to happen as Canada geese continue to increase in numbers.

“Based on current population data, the population is going to continue to grow,” O’Neal said.

Canada geese were thought to be extinct in the 1950s until a small population was found in Minnesota. Since then, programs to breed and protect the birds have allowed their population to grow beyond expectations.

“Once highly rare, now at problematic levels in human landscapes because we’re co-existing together,” O’Neal said.

The geese population grew sharply in the 1990s when construction codes implemented new requirements for drainage and runoff. Subdivisions across Indiana now have retention ponds that attract the geese into human territory. Geese and their droppings are now a common sight in neighborhoods.

Federal protections make it illegal to trap or kill the geese without a special permit or license. O’Neal says common remedies to harass or scare geese away can provide short-term solutions. But, he says, those only drive the geese into the next neighborhood. He’s looking for long-term solutions to allow geese and humans to share the same landscapes without confrontation.

“How do we manage the population at a continental scale,” O’Neal said. “Providing some knowledge about how you can interact with the birds safely, how you can deter them from nesting in unwanted areas, and our students will have a part in that outreach and education part as well.”

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