The Valley Breeze (Cumberland, RI)
By Paul Dubois, Sports Editor
CUMBERLAND – They’ve been a source of complaints for years, have damaged untold athletic fields and lawns, and their droppings are creating health hazards.
Canadian geese – or more accurately, Canada geese.
You’ve seen them congregating in open fields wherever there is a nearby pond. They spend their days eating grass, uprooting shoreline plants, and making biological deposits.
But it’s their nighttime habit that local authorities are hopeful they can interrupt and make them fly elsewhere.
Recreation Director Michael Crawley said the town has contracted with Environmental Health Services Inc., and has acquired a floating device that has been placed in the pond at Tucker Field, one of the favorite roosting and nesting spots for the pest birds.
George Williams of Cumberland, staff entomologist for the Norwood, Mass., based Environmental Health Services Inc., said that the device, costing $350, is a solar-powered unit that simply floats around in the pond flashing a 100-watt bulb.
“Geese spend their days eating, with every one eating four pounds of grass each day – and discharging three pounds,” said Williams. “But at night, the geese sleep on the pond because they’ve learned that they’re protected from predators if they’re on the water.”
The flashing device is designed to disrupt the geese just enough to make them uncomfortable, and the end result, according to studies, is that they will fly to another location.
Using a rowboat borrowed from the town Water Department, Crawley and Williams last Friday broke through the ice at the Tucker Field pond just enough to reach close to the middle, where the device was put in place. It floats, and is anchored by a cinderblock.
Crawley said that the town and other agencies have tried to discourage the geese by using chemical sprays that make grass distasteful, and that has proven to be successful, but only for short periods of time.
“The first time it rains, the chemical washes away and you either have to spray again, or they just come right back,” said Crawley. “I’ve gotten numerous complaints about the condition of the fields at Tucker because of these birds. It’s filthy and a health hazard so we’re trying to eradicate them in an ecologically friendly manner and hope to resolve our problem.”
In both Lincoln and Cumberland, the birds have created problems with their droppings, and officials in both communities have unsuccessfully tried other remedies, like placing wooden outlines of coyotes on their fields. The birds quickly found that those were not a threat to them and basically ignored them after a few days.
“This device won’t harm the birds, is maintenance-free and can be used all year long, even when the pond freezes over,” said Williams. “Actually, this is a good time to place it in the pond because the geese have already begun to stake out their nesting locations for spring.”
Because Canada geese are a protected species, they cannot be hunted except with special permits, and there are few natural predators, like coyotes. The result is that the geese have become prolific throughout not only New England, but throughout the Atlantic seaboard, from Florida north.
“A lot of people, maybe because they are Canada geese, think that the birds migrate, but they don’t,” said Williams. “The geese that we see here are with us all year long, and they make a mess.”