Birdie in the rough
Adobe Stock, Donald Joski

Birdie in the rough

A birding expert shares avian management tips for turf maintenance pros.


By Ian Rowsby

For golfers, scoring a birdie in the rough requires a great deal of patience and technique. For turf management professionals, maintaining the greens while also preventing birds from nesting near ponds and other areas along the course can be just as challenging.

Bird droppings and feathers can transmit more than 60 diseases, including salmonella, E. Coli and fungal infections. Birds can also be a host to other pests, making it easier for infestations to form in and around nesting areas.

A variety of birds can be found on or near golf courses, all of which may require different treatment plans. Three common types of golf course loving birds include Canadian geese, seagulls and woodpeckers. Here are a few tips about managing each of them.

Canadian geese

A golf course is considered prime real estate for Canadian geese. These birds love to congregate in open spaces, feed in low-lying grass and nest in low-sloping pond banks. Once these birds find a suitable nesting area, they will likely return year after year so it’s important to deter them as soon as possible.

Feces left by geese can create a number of problems, including water contamination, overfertilization of vegetative areas and slip-and-fall hazards. These birds are also known to be aggressive, especially in their mating and nesting season from February to May.

Consider building hedges around ponds to deter geese from landing or nesting along the shoreline. Water features with steeper banks will also make it difficult for geese to access these areas. Keep grass long, between six and eight inches in height, to prevent grazing. Consult with bird management professionals about the feasibility of conducting turf treatments, behavior modification efforts or implementing deterrent barrier systems.


Seagulls look for water sources near low-lying and flat surroundings to feed and graze. Similar to geese, gulls are protective of their young, also known as gull chicks, and will dive bomb and become aggressive toward passersby if they feel threatened.

Gulls can cause problems all year while scavenging for food, with the summer months bringing increased activity. This is when they are mating and rearing their young. Turf and course managers may notice more divots and grooves along the green as gulls begin scavenging for more food to feed their young.

To help keep seagulls away from the greens and other populated areas limit what food is allowed on the course. Place signs discouraging the feeding of birds and encouraging the proper disposal of unwanted food and trash in designated closed containers. Turf sprays and treatments can also be administered. It’s recommended that sprays are administered immediately after cutting the grass and should be reapplied after every one to two cuttings.


Woodpeckers get their name from their feeding habit of routinely pecking at wood for food, shelter, to establish territories and to attract mates. Depending on the species, most woodpeckers can tap an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 times per day. Unlike geese and seagulls, woodpeckers are not likely to damage the turf, but they can cause extreme damage to building structures and trees lining the property. Their noisy drilling can also make them quite a nuisance for golfers trying to focus and residents living behind the course.

A secondary threat associated with woodpeckers is the potential for pest infestations forming inside the hollows they create. If pest issues form, take care of the bird problems first and then manage the pests.

Turf managers should follow a proactive treatment plan for woodpeckers. Not only does each peck of their beak lead to more property damage, it’s also a calling strategy to attract other nearby woodpeckers. In addition to professional proactive treatment plans, turf managers can keep the greens and property line free of dead or dying trees in order to avoid additional noise disturbances and secondary pest infestations.

Many bird species, including Canadian geese, seagulls and woodpeckers are federally protected, placing restrictions on how and when turf managers can implement treatment plans. In order to avoid potential fines and reputation backlash, work with a trusted bird management professional on an integrated bird management solution that is environmentally responsible and tailored to the course’s unique needs.

Ian Rowsby is bird division sales manager for Rentokil North America.