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Canada goose poop problem in Greater Victoria needs new solutions, experts say

Egg sterilization only goes so far; robotic fox, feces Zamboni tried elsewhere
Canada goose goslings munch together at Kitty Islet on a quiet Monday morning. Local biologist Jacques Sirois estimates there are dozens of goose nests on Trial Islands and Chain Islets, and up to 1,000 geese within the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary. (Evert Lindquist/News Staff)

Despite being a native and namesake Canadian species, experts say the Canada goose, with its overwhelming numbers and its daily two pounds of feces, pose problems for Greater Victoria and its migratory bird sanctuaries.

Bruce Harrison, the provincial conservation head for Ducks Unlimited Canada, described the Canada goose as a “species that’s been moved around a little” in reference to their translocation to B.C. in the ’70s. They have always lived in the province, but when their original native population here began to plummet over time, governments stepped in to replenish their local numbers with geese from elsewhere in the country.

In B.C. the sheer number of birds has created an issue. While they’re technically a native species, Harrison admits they may have become more abundant over the last 40 or 50 years than people want.

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“The central problem is we’ve created a very nice area for them in urban areas,” he said, noting regions like Greater Victoria give them “a nice little candy store” that’s even more convenient than the natural environment they thrive in.

“It’s the lawns and grass that’re really attracting them. Most people seem to be pretty mad at them for how they affect sports fields.”

Beyond ruining a perfectly good soccer pitch, the kilogram of daily droppings a single adult Canada goose can produce can also contaminate water and cause algae blooms that steal oxygen and block sunlight for underwater plants.

Local birder Geoffrey Newell said they can also be aggressive birds and sometimes steal food from ducks and other goose species. He noted this doesn’t apply to Canada geese fully native to B.C., which migrate to the Arctic in winter.

According to local biologist Jacques Sirois, the Victoria Harbour and Shoal Harbour migratory bird sanctuaries and the surrounding islands, particularly the Trial Islands Ecological Reserve, are being affected the most.

“They degrade our urban ecology, they fowl our beaches and urban parks and they degrade our migratory bird habitat.”

Sirois knows of about 40 Canada goose nests on lesser Trial Island and another 40 to 45 on the Chain Islets. Ideally, he would like to see halved the roughly 1,000-bird population around the Victoria Harbour sanctuary. While hunting historically helped moderate goose populations along the Saanich Peninsula, he said, “there are a lot less hunters today than there used to be.”

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The non-profit Guardians of Mid-Island Estuaries Society has led local efforts to sterilize Canada goose eggs since the late ’90s. While in Greater Victoria there may be more egg addling happening than people realize – the physical process terminates embryo development – it does not seem to be impacting local goose populations, Sirois said.

“It’s complicated to deal with geese here in an urban environment.”

His estimates put the number of eggs produced by local birds at more than 1,000 a year, with between 200 and 300 geese living around Victoria Golf Club in Oak Bay.

Harrison, unsure of the effectiveness of egg addling, pointed to a couple of innovative ways of managing Canada goose populations. These include a feces “Zamboni” brought to the Island and a remote-controlled fox named Buster that the City of Kamloops funded to deter the birds from sports fields.

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