Canada geese in Jackson Park- problem? what to do?

Jackson Park home. Jackson Park News and Bulletins

*Alderman Hairston says the article was incompletely published and does not include her distinction between the geese and their feces or include that any solution must be humane.

At least one bird conservation organization has sent a letter to federal government asking that the protected status of the Canada goose not be lifted.

Jackson Park Council seeks humane solutions to the goose feces problem

By Gary Ossewaarde, secretary, Jackson Park Advisory Council, November 19, 2003

One organization uses golf cart sweepers to clean up feces (and create a marketable green product), apparently with good results on the West Coast and in Florida.

An increase in the resident population of Canada geese in Jackson Park in recent years has raised serious concerns on the part of residents, public officials, and Jackson Park Advisory Council. This has recently come to a head in a series of discussions and letters at various meetings and in the Hyde Park Herald.

According to birding tour leader Doug Anderson, the Canada geese began taking up year-round residence in the park in 1984. Numbers steadily rose to between 400 and 500 permanent residents by 2000. Some reasons for the increase include mild winters, lack of predators, and reduction of wetlands and other natural goose habitat. However, over the past three years successful nesting and raising of goslings has declined in the park, in large part due to the lagoon restoration project and netting placed on some of the islands and lagoon shoreline.

The boom in resident geese is hardly unique to Jackson Park or the South Side. Goose population is estimated at over 40,000 just in the city. Some cities have asked the federal government to reduce the protected status of the geese or obtained special permits to kill the geese. No one in Chicago or near Jackson Park, as far as this writer knows, wants or seeks to do either.

Indeed, members of the birding community say there is still room for the geese, that the geese are not damaging other wildlife, and in any case the geese should not be destroyed. But there have been strongly expressed health and safety concerns about geese feces. These include concerns about young soccer players and runners on the Stony Island track or bike paths slipping and falling. For general park users, problems include inability to walk or picnic in the goose mess and frequent aggressiveness of the geese. Since, as most agree, parks are for people and for nature, these concerns and those about ecological balance should be addressed.

Planting tall grasses and shrubs on islands and parts of the lagoon shore, where the geese nest, has—as a side result—started to turn the tide at least in young goose numbers. Taller vegetation seems to shy geese away out of a natural fear of predators. Jackson Park Advisory Council hopes to see more such planting along the lagoon shore.

In addition, in carrying out the mandates of the International Migratory Bird Treaty re: nesting birds, the Chicago Park District has been leaving grass uncut during the spring in certain areas and has been adjusting blades on mowers. Perhaps we could live with taller grass in more areas of the park. Where this is impractical or undesirable (including soccer fields), JPAC and Alderman Hairston are exploring the possibility of the park district's bringing to Jackson Park, for example, the women-owned and operated company Mighty Mound Movers that vacuums goose droppings at O'Hare field and in some parks.

Jackson Park Council will work with our aldermen to apply these or other solutions to the goose feces problem, means that will humanely keep the parks clean and safe, a haven for wildlife, and a playground and respite for people.


Alderman cries foul on Hyde Park Goose Invasion

Hyde Park Herald, November 5, 2003. By Maurice Lee

[Note, the Alderman's office says part of the release was left out. This stressed that the problem is feces, not geese, and that the alderman will approve only "humane" methods of treatment.]

In recent years Hyde Park has suffered under a fowl invasion, and Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston says it is time to do something about it. As growing numbers of migrating Canada geese have taken to calling Jackson Park and surrounding environs home, lured by the park's well stocked waters and low-cut lawns, the sheer density of the population, Hairston says, is becoming a nuisance.

Traveling in gaggles, the geese have been known to block roadways, and their slick droppings have become a major concern at the golf course and playing fields in Jackson Park.

Last week, Hairston demanded the city take action to abate the birds' numbers. "If you're walking in the morning, you have to wade through hundreds of geese and step through geese feces the size of human feces. It's throughout Jackson Park and all around the lakefront and the beaches. It's all over the golf course. It's on the sidewalks in the neighborhoods. They have reproduced at a rate that far exceeds anything I've ever seen," Hairston was quoted as saying in the Chicago Sun-Times.

According to Hairston assistant Sue Purrington, now is the time to deal with the problem before it gets worse. "It is a problem because they are everywhere," said Purrington. "They are multiplying. They have obviously found that this is a place for them."

Tim Schweizer, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR), suggested the problem might be that a population of geese has taken up permanent residence in the park. "They don't migrate to Canada, they don't migrate to the gulf coast, they find open water, they find a food source and they just stay," said Schweizer.

Chicago Ornithological Society member Randi Doeker says the geese, which were not endangered, have benefited from human impact on their territory. While humans co-opted much of the geese's habitat, they have removed many of the bird's natural predators and enacted laws to prevent people from harming them. The law is very simple in terms of migratory species: you are not allowed to touch the animal, dead or alive; you're not allowed to touch the nest or the eggs or anything related to it unless you have a permit," Said Doeker.

Because of the bird's protected status, Doeker says any solutions to the problem will have to come from the state. "It really does fall to the experts and the DNR to make a decision on what to do," said Doeker.

Schweitzer says so far no city agency has asked for assistance, but he adds that the DNR is "happy" to work with the alderman's office to address the problem. Because the geese prefer low-cut grass and clear visibility so they can spot predators at a distance, Schweizer says some simple fixes for the problem could be to plant tall grasses and shrubs around favorite goose locations or installing fencing near roadways to force geese to fly across, instead of walking.

Whatever else, Purrington says the alderman's office will try to act soon to stem the problem before it gets worse. "We are going to be definitely doing something about this," said Purrington.


Letter of reply to the Alderman's letter:

Goose rule ruffles feathers

Hyde Park Herald, November 19, 2003. By Caroline Herzenberg

I was quite disappointed to read in the Hyde Park Herald (Nov. 5, p. 1) that Alderman Leslie Hairston is demanding that the city take action to reduce the number of Canada geese. Leslie Hairston has been a fine alderman, and I generally agree with her on most issues, but not this one. I really enjoy seeing the Canada geese flying over Hyde Park and swimming in the lagoons in Jackson Park. They are beautiful birds and they help to bring a little of the natural world into the city. Their haunting calls and distinctive "V" shaped flying formations herald the changes of season for us. those of us who frequent the lagoon areas in the springtime enjoy seeing the adult Canada geese herding their downy little goslings together on the grass ad in the water. When I was a child, Canada geese had been almost wiped out by hunting and they were a rare sight, and so it has been a real pleasure seeing tem coming back. These wild geese are gentle, harmless creatures, and there is no real reason why we cannot live in harmony with them.