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Canadian course uses bald eagle to reduce their Canada Geese problem.

| September 28, 2012

 

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article first appeared in From The Green Side. It is reprinted with permission.

For more information at bald eagle geese control, contact Anne Sisson at anne@geesecontrol.org or 250/999-2450.

One of the main problems for Golf Course Superintendents is dealing with the mess created by Canada Geese. I have seen many different efforts to attempt to eradicate this problem with little success.

Fairwinds Golf Club in Nanoose Bay, BC has found an alternative that is not only natural and effective but very interesting as well.  Anne Sisson has been contracted by Fairwinds to use her pet Bald Eagle, Eddy to reduce the problem geese and help deal with the mess they make on the fairways.  I had an opportunity to speak with Anne and Eddy recently.
 
FTGS- Where did you originally get the idea to use birds of prey to control Canadian Geese?
AS- I came up with the idea while doing various bird control jobs at airports, malls and landfills using trained bids of prey as the main deterrent for nuisance birds.  Falconry was so effective in those other situations that I thought the same strategies could be applied to the Canada Geese problem.
 
FTGS- What type of training or education do you have that pertains to the control of geese using birds of prey?

AS-  I apprenticed under a master falconer in Ontario for many years and worked for him and his wildlife control company for seven years. I have a commercial falconry permit which allows me to own, breed and work with many different types of birds of prey in a business setting. I have 28 years of experience in falconry, working in various capacities.
 
FTGS- Does Eddie actually attack the geese or simply scare them away?
AS- I did not train Eddie to hunt as I am always working in public and public perception is of paramount concern. I do not wish to do anything that is going to cause upset. I take the utmost care to successfully manage problem geese in a natural way without doing any harm. Basically what Eddie does is hunt me as I always have the food. This is what scares the geese away. When a bird of prey is in hunting mode the body shape changes and prey species know it instantly. If a bird of prey is not in hunting mode, prey species do not move as readily.
 
FTGS- How much training did it take before you were comfortable with using Eddie around people?

AS- It took a couple of years of intensive work and it is an ongoing relationship. It requires a lot of trust, patience and repetition to work with these birds. I have been working with Eddie on golf courses for twelve years now and he knows his job. We also do a lot of educational work and presentations. People love seeing him on the golf course working. A little golf humour is that people get an eagle every time they golf when Eddie is on patrol. We are the geese police.
 
FTGS-  What other methods do you use too control Geese?

AS- I also have a trained border collie that I use along with the eagle, though not at the same time. In spring the most important part of my job is to locate where geese are nesting and addle their eggs so that the numbers do not continue to increase exponentially every year. The problem is growing by about 12% worldwide per year.
 
6.  Would it be possible for you to have more than one contract at a time?  In other words, is one golf course a full time job?
Yes it is possible to do more than one contract at a time. In Ontario I had eight contracts on golf courses, a couple of parks, sports fields, a school and a convent! Some jobs are much more challenging than others.  There is none exactly the same. Each situation is unique unto itself.
 
FTGS-  How many birds and what kinds of birds do you work with?
AS- Right now I work with a bald eagle, though I was working with nine different birds back in Ontario. I had a falcon with me for a while out here as well but she was used more for seagull control jobs. I have trained and worked with all different types of falcons, hawks, owls, eagles and even vultures and ravens. Different birds are used for different issues.
 
FTGS- Can you explain in a step by step format what a typical geese chasing day would look like? 
AS- There is no hard and fast rule of thumb in this job. I do three or four visits per day all depending on what the geese are doing, they set the pace. I switch up my times and what I am using because geese get conditioned if the same thing is used in the same way and at the same time.  If I only came at 7:00am and 5:00pm with the dog, they would quickly learn to stay away for those specific times and they would come in later. They never know what I will be using or when I will show up. I mix it up all of the time. I even come in the middle of the night if there is a full moon.
 
FTGS- How long would it take to rid a property of geese if they have an existing problem?
AS- In my experience with the type of wildlife control that I do, I have never seen an issue completely eradicated. It can be brought under control, effectively managed and lessened over time but when one is dealing with nature, covering large areas, rarely can something be “gotten rid of” so to speak, nor should it. It is all about harmony and balance. One could cull everything and get rid of the problem for a time but it creates a vacuum and nature abhors a vacuum. Another problem usually ensues down the road when one uses such drastic measures as is so often being found out of late. Common sense is the most important part of any plan of action. Maintenance is very important once a problem has been brought under control. Geese problems build over time and they are not solved overnight.  Moreover, a viable working solution builds on itself, there is a momentum that needs to be kept going.
 
FTGS-  Once the geese have left, what is the strategy to keeping them away?
AS- It is about being present and continually keeping them on the move so that they do not take up permanent residence on a property.  Geese attract more geese into an area as well. When you stop the method of control or management, within a very short period of time you are back to square one losing all of the momentum that you have gained.
 
There has been a lot of green space created with grass that is not the natural diet of geese and with their numbers on the rise everywhere, they are always looking for places to call home. Many geese do not even migrate anymore. As with any job it is never really finished. There is always something that needs to be done to keep things running as efficiently as possible. As any superintendent knows, it takes a lot of training, knowledge and manpower to keep a golf course healthy and at its best. It isn’t just someone watering, fertilizing and cutting the grass once a week. There is so much more involved than the average person would ever see or know. Plenty of people know how to keep a nice lawn but one would not have such a person look after the turf and terrain on a golf course.  One needs a professional. So it is too with an effective geese management program.
 
FTGS- Can the birds of prey be used to control other pest species aside from geese?
 AS- Birds of prey have been very successfully used to control many pest species but mostly birds. Falconry is used to keep bird strikes at a minimum at airports. It has proven to be a very effective means of improving safety for planes taking off and landing. It is successfully used in vineyards or other areas with certain crops that pest birds can decimate. I have a falconer friend who works for E.D. Smith farms to keep birds out of the berry fields. 80% of the crops were being eaten by cedar waxwings. Having a couple of trained falcons in the area during the growing and harvesting season saved most of the crops. Likewise, birds of prey are used very successfully at landfills to help keep gull numbers under control. When there are tens of thousands of gulls hovering and flying about, the people operating heavy equipment lose their equilibrium because of the mass of birds and it becomes a safety issue. I have worked at airports, landfills, malls, city and government buildings dealing with everything from pigeons, starlings and gulls all the way up to the geese.  With geese, flying a falcon or a smaller hawk does not do too much. You really need a bigger bird such as the ferruginous hawk or an eagle to really get them moving. With smaller birds such as starlings, waxwings or crows, a falconer will use trained falcons, a harris hawk or goshawks. The harris hawk is probably the most versatile of the falconry birds. Falcons naturally hunt and feed on birds. Using an eagle is not the right bird for that kind of job.

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