Canada Geese New Jersey 




Sharon Pawlak, National coordinator of the Coalition to Prevent the Destruction of Canada Geese. “Reasonable thinking people recognize that Canada geese cannot be rightfully faulted for doing what comes naturally. In addition, reasonable thinking people recognize that geese do not go through life with deceptive intentions, plotting and implementing ways to deliberately disrupt the human lifestyle. Yet, there are some who perceive the geese as a nuisance or pest – a human concept of which the geese have no knowledge. Nevertheless, human/goose conflicts exist but let’s put the blame where it rightfully belongs – on humans”.


The following is an excerpt from The Geese That Came in From the Wild, written by Jack Hope for Audubon magazine.

These suddenly populous residents have evolved over the past century or so as a result of a series of humanly engineered situations, including the widespread market hunting of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hunters in each flyway owned "decoy flocks" of wounded or captured migrant Canada geese, which they kept in captivity to lure others out of the sky and into shotgun range. When the decoy birds reproduced, their offsprings’ wing feathers were clipped or one wing tip was amputated, and they, too, were kept captive.

When hunting with live decoys was outlawed in 1935, some former market hunters kept and cared for their flocks. Others released them in the nearest bay or marsh or gave them away. In the Atlantic Flyway alone, an estimated 20,000 birds were freed. Towns and parks and individuals everywhere gladly adopted them, feeding and protecting them for the novelty of having Canada geese nearby.

Even though their wings were no longer being clipped, the former decoy flocks did not resume their ancient migrations. Their migratory instincts were intact, but goslings learn the details of behavior from their parents and other adult geese. In the earthbound decoy flocks, after three or four or five generations in captivity, there were no birds remaining that had ever participated in, say, the spring nesting migration from the lower Mississippi Valley to northern Manitoba.

Also, during their captivity, decoy geese had become conditioned to residing year-round in a single location and relying upon their human keepers for food. After release, there was little biological incentive for the flocks to change their behavior. In northern states, when lake ice froze beneath them and snow covered the ground, flocks were forced to depart temporarily. But they typically flew only far enough–50 miles, 150 miles–to find the nearest open water and manmade food supply. The former decoy flocks thrived and slowly spread.

Meanwhile, Americans had been moving westward across the Midwest and the Great Plains. In both the United States and Canada, they often killed and ate geese, robbed their nests of eggs, and captured goslings to raise for food. This pressure, in addition to that of market hunting, severely depleted the numbers of the large, short-migrating Canada geese that inhabited that part of the world–Branta canadensis maxima, which averaged roughly 10 to 16 pounds. By the 1920s most wildlife biologists were convinced that the subspecies had been completely wiped out.

That wasn’t the case. Hundreds of former nest-robbers and subsistence hunters, along with onetime market hunters, owned small, untallied flocks of the birds. At least one wild flock remained as well, nesting in southeastern Manitoba and wintering in Rochester, Minnesota. But it was not until 1962 that an Illinois biologist, Harold Hanson, systematically weighed birds from this flock to prove that there were indeed survivors of the once bountiful "giant Canada geese."

Hanson’s finding created a hoopla within the wildlife-management community. There was an immediate rush not only to restore the giant Canada goose to its original habitat but to import and propagate the big birds for sport hunting in places where they had never before resided. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with most state wildlife agencies in the nation, bought thousands of them, primarily from private flocks, and began captive-breeding programs. States that did not initiate their own programs later imported the large birds from nearby states that had an excess of them.

Hanson had described these large, low-flying Canada geese as innately placid and highly adaptable to human rearing. The breeding programs made them more so. Flocks of breeding pairs, wing tips amputated, were kept in fenced enclosures within state and federal refuges. Plots of alfalfa and oats were planted for them, and they were hand-fed lettuce, oyster grit, corn, and commercial laying mash. Wildlife workers built them winter shelters, concrete brood pens, wooden nest platforms, and even nest enclosures made of cut-apart 55-gallon oil drums and discarded auto tires.

Over the next 25 years the breeding programs succeeded wildly. Government wildlife agencies relocated thousands of young geese each year into marshes, ponds, and lakes within their jurisdictions. The birds’ wings were no longer clipped. But, like the decoy flocks, these geese had already acquired the essentially nonmigratory behavior of their parents. They had also learned to live and nest in densely populated colonies and to depend upon human-supplied food.

This behavior dovetailed especially well with the evolving geopolitical landscape of the American suburbs. In a vast, post—World War II transformation, millions of acres of brush lot, forest, and even desert were converted into the decorative ponds and cultivated grass of golf courses, corporate headquarters, school campuses, and residential lawns.


Supplement To Narrative Report
Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge
Oceanville, New Jersey

Period Ending August 31, 1961

Brignatine's first Goose flock consisted of seventy (70) pinioned adult birds obtained from Blackwater Refuge in 1953.

From November, 1957, to June, 1958, seven (7) separate releases, totaling 99 geese, were made on the West Pool. Sixty-three (63) were hand reared immature birds. Four (4) were paired adults and 32 were mixed flocks of adults and immatures. One mixed flock of 19 geese and one adult pair were pinioned; the remainder were temporarily wing-clipped before their release. No nesting occurred in 1958 but in 1959 six pairs of geese reared broods totaling 15 young. None of the pinioned birds nested. Although hatching success was low, the number of birds nesting was exceptionally good considering that a majority of the immature birds were too young to produce broods in 1959 (26 of the 63 were goslings of the year released in 1959 while others were only one year old).

Low fertility was the principal factor in hatching success. Of the 19 eggs in the 4 nests which were located, 9 were infertile and 10 hatched. Two of the nests were on muskrat houses and two were on small grassy islands along the dike.

No evidence of migratory behavior has been shown by the 78 free flying geese.

In 1960, 7 broods produced 32 young. The known nests were located on the small islands within the impoundments.

During the winter of 1960-1961, a flock of 125 remained in the refuge. In February these birds began to leave the flock and pairs were observed seeking nesting sites. The first actual nesting female was observed on March 25.

The "Round -up" of June 22, 1961 took 56 goslings which were banded and released. On June 23, a brood of 5 goslings was observed. These birds were not banded and were only in the Class I-B age group.

The favorite location of nesting sites was the South-west corner of the East Pool, between the Cross Dike Structure and the boat house. This area has several small and two (2) large islands. The entire area is approximately 300 yards square. There were 7 nests in this area and all were successful. It was interesting to note that none of the geese in this area exhibited any aggressive home range behavior either to man or other geese. The total distance between Nests 5-7-14 was less than 125 feet. One Nest, #14, was built by the goose that laid on platforms listed as 3-16-17. This goose was accompanied by 2 ganders all Spring but when she had made her nest, both males abandoned her. She raised her brood of 2 goslings alone. She started her incubation as soon as she laid her eggs, as examination of unhatched eggs revealed fully developed embryos which possibly would have hatched with a few more days incubation.

The birds preferred to nest on islands and most nests were on the Western sides of the islands. The favored elevation above the water was 15"-30", and most nests were within 3 feet of the shore.

 Artificial Devices:

Two types of man-made nesting sites are now in use on Brigantine. In 1958, William Forward put into use 24 half-oil-drum nesting islands. This consisted of a 55 gallon oil drum cut in half, with the sharp edge rolled over. These cans were then filled with enough gravel to hold them down, and holes cut in them to facilitate drainage. The rest of the can was filled with either waste from a shingle mill, long fibrous cedar saw waste, or natural dried vegetation. These drums were not refilled in 1961, and it is unknown if they were rechecked previously. In 1961, a pair of geese utilized one of these drums located in the West Pool, just west of Doughty Creek, near the upland. This barrel was filled with a variety of dead vegetative material. The level of material was approximately (8") below the top of the barrel. The clutch consisted of 5 eggs which were successfully brought off. This was one of the few pairs of geese which exhibited any aggressive behavior toward intruders, either man or other geese. The nearest goose nest to this one was over half a mile away. The other aggressive birds were nests 2 & 8.

This type of platform will attract geese as demonstrated by usage this year. In order to insure successful hatching of the eggs, a solid layer of either masonite or tarred paper, covered by several inches of gravel, should be used first, then covered with a foot or more of old vegetative matter. The solid material should have holes in it to promote drainage. The Dwarf Spike rush, pulled by feeding ducks, shows great promise as a filler as it has high matting characteristic.

Care must be taken in selection of sites for nesting platforms so that a natural site is not usurped.

In 1962, a dozen #4 Wash Tubs, filled with pea stone and vegetation, will be tested, as well as the nesting platforms and drums, which will be revamped, giving us a variety of devices to insure adequate sites for all nesting geese.


The following is an excerpt from New Jersey and Canada Geese: Too Perfect Together, written by Hackensack Riverkeeper, Hugh Carola

In pre-colonial times, Canada geese (Branta Canadensis) never nested in heavily forested New Jersey because there was virtually no habitat for them. They require open areas on which to build their nests and plenty of grass upon which to feed. The tundra of northern Canada provided them with the perfect nesting grounds. Some geese overwintered in the saltmarshes along our coast but the majority bypassed New Jersey for better wintering grounds on Chesapeake Bay. It's post-colonial times that have brought changes to both our state and the geese.

The first changes occurred after the forests were logged. First came farms, then lawns with grass and lots of it. Next came the release of thousands of captive-bred geese by wildlife managers in the early 20th century. Believe it or not, hundreds of years of unrestricted market hunting had brought the species to the brink of extinction. The captive-bred birds lacked the strong migratory instincts of their wild cousins and learned to exploit the human-created habitat in New Jersey and neighboring states.


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