Goose Management

Gaggle of Geese at Easter Lake

Des Moines contains many environments that are attractive to Canada geese. In areas that are popular for both people and geese, problems can occur that harm the health and safety of both.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has provided the City of Des Moines management recommendations to proactively reduce human-goose conflict. These recommendations will make Des Moines less attractive to Canada geese while encouraging City staff and residents to view geese as part of our natural community.

Des Moines seeks to reduce human-goose conflict through a proactive approach using measures to manage Canada geese within City limits. This will consist of reviewing current problems, developing solutions and evaluating outcomes.

A one-size-fits-all approach will not address this complex issue.

It is not possible, nor appropriate, to completely remove Canada geese from the City as they are part of the natural community. The recommendations will allow Des Moines to take proactive measures to reduce the attractiveness of certain landscapes to geese while providing education to reduce human-goose conflict.

Goose Management Plan

Download the Plan

Click the button below to download the full "Des Moines Canada Goose Management Plan" developed by the City of Des Moines and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

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Targeted Areas of Concern

The goose management plan is being implemented to deter geese from the following problem areas:

Parks/Golf Courses/Trail/Cemeteries

AH Blank Golf Course
Birdland Park/Drive
Des Moines River Levee Trail System
Glendale Cemetery
Gray’s Station Stormwater Wetland
James W. Cownie Baseball Park
James W. Cownie Soccer Park
Pete Crivaro Park
Riverview Park
Southeast Connector Trail
Three Lakes Estates

Stormwater Retention Ponds

27th Street (S of School, N of 235)
41st and College
5th and Forest
Basin near 31st Street SW
Bennett Avenue West
Birdland Lagoon
Birdland Marina
Dean Lake
East Euclid
East Washington
Easter Lake
Easter Lake #1
Easter Lake #4
Easter Lake #8
Easter Lake #10
Easter Lake Park
Easton Blvd
Frazier Avenue
Garden Ave
Glendale Pond
Grand View Golf
Guthrie Avenue
Hartford Avenue
Holcomb Avenue North
Holcomb Avenue South
Hull Avenue
Jackson
Mattern Avenue
North Valley
Park Forest Plat 1
Pioneer Knolls
Riverview Lake
SE 10th Street and Scott Avenue
Waveland Pond
White Oak Park
Witmer Detention
Witmer Pond
Woods Edge and Woods Park
Timing Matters

Goose behavior varies throughout the year to meet the needs of their life cycle and the season. Geese form large flocks during the fall and winter, which typically disperse into pairs and smaller flocks during the spring. Nesting geese seek a safe site that is relatively close to water. Once goslings hatch in mid to late spring the family is flightless until mid to late summer. During this time, geese congregate in small- to moderate-sized flocks in landscapes where short grass is adjacent to open water. These family groups gradually aggregate into the larger flocks observed during the fall and winter. During the growing season, Canada geese are primarily grazers that forage on the new growth of grasses, sedges, and forbs. During fall and winter they feed extensively on waste grains in harvested crop fields. Geese prefer foraging sites that have good visibility so predators can be easily detected. Geese have strong ties to where they learned to fly and where they have previously nested, generally returning to these areas every year.

February-May: Adult goose pairs select pond and nesting sites. These are “local” nesting geese. Nesting and 28 days of incubation occurs. Non-nesting adults move about in loose flocks.

May-July: Goslings hatch and families group together. Protected water sites with close food sources see increased goose numbers. Non-nesting geese may stay in the area or “molt migrate” farther north.

July-September: Goslings gain flight and flocks start moving larger distances to food opportunities.

October-January: Geese migrate into the area from farther north and migrations further south continue depending on food availability, weather, hunting pressure, and access to open water. Goose numbers in metro are at their highest. As weather improves, geese migrate back north.

Plan Recommendations

Elimination of Food Handouts

One of the most powerful attractants for wildlife is food. Feeding not only attracts geese to undesirable areas but it changes how geese perceive humans: instead of a predator to be avoided, humans are perceived as a potential source of food handouts. This activity falsely appears as beneficial for geese. However, most food items given to geese by people (e.g. bread, crackers, or popcorn) are inappropriate for their digestive system and not good for their overall health. Furthermore, concentrating birds in high densities has the potential to lead to disease concerns.

By associating people with food, geese will increasingly approach people even when unwanted. Conversely, people may approach geese during times of the year when the birds are more territorial or protective of nests or young, leading to aggressive behavior and subsequent negative interactions. Food handouts should be eliminated, and below are some recommendations for how to do so:

  • Adopt ordinances banning all artificial feeding of any waterfowl.

  • Strict enforcement centered on problem areas will reinforce the idea with people that feeding the geese is not allowed. (Coordinated effort with Polk County Conservation and Des Moines Water Works)

  • Erect signage in areas where feeding has been an issue to help educate people on the rules as well as the reasons why it is not allowed.

  • Incorporate this message with all education and outreach about Canada geese.

Habitat Modifications

Wildlife will move into areas that offer the appropriate habitat. There are several common elements of modern urban landscapes that are attractive to Canada geese. Geese prefer open spaces where they can see long distances in order to detect predators. In many cases they walk from the water to adjacent open areas to graze. Large expanses of mowed grass, particularly when near water, attract geese due to the combination of forage from grazing on the grass and the ability to see long distances. Landscape architects and planners should evaluate the need for large expanses of mowed grass. Where possible, these features should be avoided, modified or utilized in a manner that minimizes the attraction to geese.

Landscapes can be designed or modified to reduce the attractiveness of the habitat that they provide. There are many ways to make habitat less attractive to Canada geese without reducing the aesthetic or designed recreational use. Common practices include: un-mowed vegetative buffers, native prairie strips or butterfly gardens, native shrub rows, landscaping design, ornament placement, and rip-rap shorelines.

Vegetative buffers adjacent to waterbodies such as strips of native prairie and wildflowers may reduce the visibility for geese and therefore reduce the attractiveness of a certain area. Areas that are currently lawns can be converted to prairie strips or butterfly gardens. Furthermore, prairie plantings can be incorporated into the designs for future waterbodies. These have the added benefit of increased ecological function such as increased water storage, pollinator habitat, and reduced mowing. Another potential vegetative solution is the use of native shrubs to form a barrier through which geese cannot easily see or walk through. This will limit the ability of geese to access an area. Other habitat features, such as large diameter rip-rap along the water’s edge, can reduce the ability of geese to walk up on banks. Building on that concept, retaining walls or landscaped steps create an obstacle to geese. These ledges could be built on the shoreline or incorporated into nearby landscaping. There are a number of ways to alter the look and habitat of an area that can reduce the attractiveness of the site to geese.

Water features such as islands and aerators are very attractive to geese at different times of the year. Islands are desirable for geese as a safe nesting location and often result in multiple successful nests. This results in large numbers of goslings which will likely cause increasing numbers of geese for years to come. Aeration systems create open water during periods when waterbodies would otherwise freeze over. This allows geese to continue using a waterbody when other waterbodies are frozen, thereby increasing the site's attractiveness and value to geese all year. If possible, aeration systems should be turned off and geese hazed to allow the waterbody to freeze, even if only for a temporary period during cold weather. Below are recommendations to deter geese from using waterbodies at different times of year:

  • Plant tall plant buffers (i.e. native prairie strips), shrub rows, or other native vegetation to break-up the access between manicured lawn and waterbodies as well as impede sight distance. The wider this buffer is the more effective it will be: a minimum of 20 feet is recommended.

  • Large diameter rip-rap along steep banks will impede goose movement along those areas.

  • Incorporating aquatic vegetation in the littoral zone (shallow areas) of any ponds will help impede the movement of birds to and from the water and is less desirable than non-vegetated waterbodies.

  • Modify future pond building or stormwater retention area plans to include native prairie buffers that will discourage goose use.

  • Do not incorporate islands or peninsulas into waterbodies where geese are not desired as they are highly utilized for nesting. If possible, remove any existing islands or manage the vegetation in such a way that deters nesting of geese or makes them more accessible for hazing.

  • Remove any existing tub nesting structures from any waterbodies.

  • Do not use aerators during the winter months as they will keep waterbodies from freezing over thereby congregating migrating birds and holding resident geese longer.

Exclusion Techniques

Access between a water feature and the preferred feeding sites of geese should be reduced to discourage goose use. Geese prefer to graze the fresh growth of grass and young forbs, therefore nearly all mowed areas provide feeding sites. The closer and easier it is to get from a waterbody to any lawn area, the more likely it is to be selected as a good spring and summer site for geese. Their summer molt process and strong familial ties tend to keep geese localized in preferred sites: if geese nest near an area with water, they will likely stay in the area all summer with their goslings. Reducing access to and from the water can help deter geese from choosing a site for raising their young. Additionally, if a waterbody is inaccessible then it will not be used.

While habitat alterations such as native vegetative buffers, native shrub plantings, and rip-rap are higher priority and more effective in the long term, exclusion techniques such as fencing or floating mats can be advantageous at certain sites because they can be utilized temporarily. By focusing the below techniques at specific locations and specific times of year, this method can target areas that have a history of conflict.

  • Fence the waterbodies to deter nesting geese and family groups. Fencing should be at least 18 inches tall and tight enough that goslings cannot go through it (<3 inch weave).

  • Temporary fencing can be used from March through May to discourage nesting and family groups.

  • Electric fence can be effective at deterring geese. Electrified strands between 6 and 12 inches from the ground can be effective. Vegetation under and around the fence will need to be trimmed to maintain the fence. Signage to notify any potential site users of the electric fence is highly recommended.

  • If traditional fencing options are not suitable for the site, anything that is in the way can be a deterrent for using the area including a simple rope line approximately 8-12 inches off of the ground.

  • For small waterbodies, floating mats may be placed over the majority of the pond to not allow birds to land in the water.

Aversive Conditioning

Canada geese are a prey species and should therefore be wary of predators such as humans. However, it is common in urban environments that geese become habituated to humans. Aversive conditioning, or hazing the animals through scare tactics and sensory discomfort to create an uncomfortable atmosphere for geese, will decrease goose use, human- goose interactions, and conflict. Simulating predator behavior and hunting, loud noises, and aggravating lighting can all help make a spot less friendly for geese.

Hazing activities are easy to incorporate with all other action steps and should be conducted often so there is not a time when the geese are allowed to feel comfortable. Utilize multiple techniques and note that geese will often associate the look of someone (i.e. clothes, hats, jackets, etc.) with the hazing. Use that visual connection to your advantage to make humans seem less friendly overall and scarecrows an option in the future. As long as geese are not harmed and are not nesting, then hazing is legal without any special permitting. Below are recommended hazing techniques:

  • Pyrotechnics and other bird scare noise devices can be alarming to geese and mimic gunshots or other fear generating conditions (such as predatory birds).

  • The use of controlled dogs is highly effective at deterring geese from an area. Hiring someone with a trained dog, incorporating dog parks in areas that geese use, or neighbors that can walk dogs in the area can be a strong goose deterrent.

  • Shining strong lasers at the geese in the evening can be used to keep birds from roosting on certain waterbodies.

  • Objects that move, make noise, and reflect light will make the area less comfortable for geese.

  • Combine as many forms of hazing as possible for best results.

Repellents

Repellents applied to lawns or turf areas can make the grass less palatable to the geese. Goose repellents use a grape extract, methyl anthranilate, that, while not harmful, does irritate certain receptors and mucous membranes in the geese. The reduction in the food source may encourage the geese to utilize alternative feeding sites. All labels on repellent should be followed and re-application after any weather event or long sun exposure will be needed to maintain effectiveness. This is a short term solution that can be costly, but it can be useful in certain circumstances especially when combined with other efforts.

  • Target problem areas where additional techniques will be implemented.

  • This may be an appropriate technique to incorporate with new seedings, new tall plant buffers, or new waterbodies.

  • There are a number of commercial products available for purchase. We'll select a repellent with methyl anthranilate in the active ingredients.

  • Reapplication and staff time can make this technique costly for the short term results.

Education and Outreach

An important aspect to all wildlife management and particularly for reduction of negative human-wildlife interactions is education and outreach. This will reinforce ordinances that ban feeding and allow hunting in certain municipal areas. Educating internal staff and monitoring interactions between the public and geese will help inform decisions. Additionally, an appreciation for this conservation success story and natural resource can be increased with greater knowledge about the natural history, ecology, and habits of Canada geese. Armed with more information, the citizens and city can do their part to help deter negative interactions while allowing geese to still exist in a natural way.

  • Utilize all methods of media including social media, newspaper articles, websites, and radio shows to increase awareness of goose mitigation strategies, goose ecology, and projects related to geese.

  • Work with partners to advocate for the messages within this plan to aid in outreach and education.

  • Educate private landowners, realty companies, landscapers, and business owners on goose behavior, methods for reducing goose use, and habitat management.

  • Signage along areas that are utilizing habitat modifications or exclusion can help educate the public on changes to the area and why they are beneficial.

  • Involve citizens in nest monitoring or brood counts as a form of citizen science to help quantify goose numbers and success of techniques used.

  • Track wildlife complaints, specifically goose complaints, to better track where problems occur, what type of problems occur, when problems occur, and how many problems are occurring. This will be a tool that is very important for how situations are addressed and quantifying the effect of any mitigation efforts.

  • Track techniques used and success/failure at sites to help form best management practices.