Let’s use a Border Collie to solve the geese problem now

shoreline, Ames ParkI optimistically blogged about the Canada geese (AKA ‘sky carp’ or ‘flying rats’) in Ames Park last December: The sky carp problem in Ames Park: the City’s tactics appear to be working.

And then in April, I took this photo of workers removing the fencing along the west side of the Cannon River in Ames Park. I sent this email to City Engineer Katy Gehler-Hess:

Hi Katy, I see the fencing along the Cannon River downtown was removed this morning. The plantings didn’t grow? What’s plan B??

I never got a reply but she evidently forwarded my email to Street/Park Supervisor T.J. Heinricy who wrote:

The fence in Ames park was removed per the recommendation of Bonestroo Inc.  They were the contractor hired to do the install.  I asked them this Spring about the fence removal.  The gentleman that did the install did a very detailed inspection.  The planting’s are doing just fine and are thriving.  That was their assessment.

Alas, the problem is now worse than ever.

geese in Ames Park shoreline, Ames Park shoreline, Ames Park shoreline, Ames Park
I took these photos last night.  The geese use the canoe ramps and the bank next to the Ames Mill fence that’s not city property to enter and exit the river. And the plantings are NOT thriving everywhere as Bonestroo contended. There are many spots that look like this:

shoreline, Ames Park

Nfld News:

City Administrator Joel Walinski said it will take time to see the full effect of the new shoreline, which looks much better than it did two years ago, he said.

I’m extremely doubtful that the current solution will work in two years.  The Nfld News editorial mentioned using dogs, specifically Border Collies. Lots of businesses doing this (example, here) and even the Coalition to Prevent the Destruction of Canada Geese recommends using Border Collies:

Border Collies (BC) are specially trained herding dogs that are extremely effective for keeping geese out of areas where they are considered a problem.  Border collies are the method of choice for large open areas such as golf courses, airports, parks, school ground recreation fields, corporate parks, etc.

Results are immediate. Usually requires aggressive initial use (several times a day for 1-2 weeks) until geese get tired of being hassled and stay away. While the wolf-like gaze of Border Collies is incredibly frightening to geese, these dogs will not harm them or children.

Tearing down the Ames Mill dam might solve the problem but that project appears to be stalled.

So why not get/rent a Border Collie and solve the problem NOW, before DJJD?  Couldn’t the Park & Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB) could take the lead on this initiative?

Update 7/16 8:30 am:  Geese feces on the Mill Towns Trail between Riverside Park and Babcock Park:

Geese feces on the Mill Towns Trail Geese feces on the Mill Towns Trail Geese feces on the Mill Towns Trail

Update 7/18 7:15 am: Geese feces on the Sesquincentennial Plaza:

Geese feces on the Sesquincentennial Plaza Geese feces on the Sesquincentennial Plaza Geese feces on the Sesquincentennial Plaza


  1. Phil Poyner said:

    Back in 1997-2000 I was stationed at Langley AFB. It’s located right on the water front and there was an 18-hole golf course that ran right along-side the runway complex. Needless to say, large migratory water fowl loved the golf course. Asides from the displeasure of the golfers, who were up to their ankles in goose poop (and about whom none of us really cared), there were serious concerns that one of our F-15’s (or the F-16’s that stood air defense alert) would one day ingest one of these large birds. I’m not sure what exactly they did to try to get rid of the problem, but I’m pretty sure not all of courses of action were lethal. Perhaps the first place to look for answers to this problem is with the BASH programs that are in place at most airports and airbases.

    July 8, 2010
  2. John S. Thomas said:

    Perhaps we are viewing it wrong…

    The more activity we can get into the park (humans and dogs), the less the geese will want to be there.

    But, to get the people there, we need to get rid of the geese and the associated remains.

    I would initally suggest (and encourage) pet owners to bring thier pets (leashed of course) into the park between now and Labor Day. The presence of dogs is inexpensive, and may help the situation, at NO COST to the city. There has to be a border collie or two around town that would LOVE to play with the geese…

    More Activity, More Utilization, less geese. We need to utilize that park better.

    July 8, 2010
  3. Anne Sawyer said:

    I have a year-old border collie! He’s not “geese trained” yet, though – he’s more at the “chasing” stage and less at the “giving the goose the eye” stage. But I’d be happy to offer his “services” to the city… ; )

    Seriously, though, unless the BC is trained in goose-eyeing, he’ll probably just chase them like any other dog. And it’s possible that the dogs would tear up the vegetation worse than the geese, and the geese can always escape into the river. I am FASCINATED by the control of geese with border collies, though. If I had time, (i.e. didn’t have a small farm, OLD historic house in active remodel and 120-mile daily commute, among many other pursuits), I’d LOVE to train my BC to herd geese!

    July 8, 2010
  4. Other than during DJJD, I’ve never known Ames Park to be a lively place. The Fifth Street bridge, which is the most realistic access, is an unpleasant ped environment. Between that and the traffic noise from Hwy 3, I think it’s better suited to be used by geese than humans.

    July 11, 2010
  5. john george said:

    Sean- I agree. Some things are best left alone. Besides, nature has a way of balancing itself, if we humans just resist trying to help out. Usually, when there is an overpopulation of a specific species, some natural agent, such as a disease or predator, will thin out the population. For example, consider the problem farmers face fighting aphid infestations in soybean fields. So, we introduce the Asian Beetle to fight the aphids. Now we are inundated with Asian Beetles after the soybean harvest. Introducing “green” technology to solve some of our problems we have with our environment will sometimes backfire.

    July 12, 2010
  6. The geese can sometimes carry disease in their droppings and I don’t know if that is transferrable to other species. Some company in Illinios used a faux alligator at their big geese drawing fountain and it helped until the geese figured out that the alligator wasn’t gonna bother them, after a few days they did return. The geese smarter than we might think.

    July 13, 2010
  7. Griff Wigley said:

    PRAB member Nathan Knutson told me this morning that this issue was discussed at the end of their meeting on Monday. Evidently Dr. Hvisty will be looking into the dog solution and it’ll be on the agenda of the next PRAB meeting.

    July 16, 2010
  8. Griff Wigley said:

    Sean and John, the geese are now shitting all over the Mill Towns Trail between Riverside Park and Babcock Park, including the gorgeous rock retaining wall. I’ve added 3 photos to the blog post above.

    I think history around the country shows that left unchecked, the geese will continue to increase. I don’t think we can let nature take its course and cede all three parks to the geese, especially when us humans are contributing to the problem in the first place.

    July 16, 2010
  9. Griff Wigley said:

    Anne, I talked with Cannon Valley Vet Mark Werner this morning and he said that border collies take little-to-no training to become effective geese chasers. “It’s in their blood” was how he put it.

    Can you contact PRAB board member David Hvistendahl re: your offer?

    July 16, 2010
  10. Griff Wigley said:

    The geese are now shitting all over the Sesquincentennial Plaza, including the steps and big limestone boulders where people sit. I’ve added three photos to the blog post above.

    July 18, 2010
  11. Oh, I needed this snort — spent a year and a half by Lake of the Isles, and it’s hard to rollerskate over goose poop. Excellent goose shit closeups! Could the dog park do a fundraiser BC hearding demo? And a concession stand at DJJD with various fricassee of goose, fried goose leg, roast goose, wokked goose & veggies, faux gras, and a “cook your own goose” start to finish workshop featuring a “select & catch” contest. Goose goosing back behind the petting zoo. Goose stepping drills. Staple on diapers with numbers on them and round them up in the big net and dump them in the drink… first to hit the barrier wins a year’s worth supply of fresh goose! Bring on the BCs and if that doesn’t work, I’ll loan a GSD. Honk if you love gooses!

    July 20, 2010
  12. Anne Sawyer said:

    Ah, I just happened to notice this today! I’ll drop a line and see what happens… I’m not sure how to train my pup to be an effective goose-eyer, but I’m up for the challenge! : )

    July 22, 2010
  13. Anne Sawyer said:

    Let’s not forget that we’ve a) expanded habitat for geese in urban areas by creating ponds such as on golf courses and for stormwater retention while we’ve b) reduced urban habitat for natural predators such as fox, coyotes, weasels, etc. Seems like the best option is to deter them from nesting/congregating in higher priority areas (such as plazas) and hope they go elsewhere.

    July 22, 2010
  14. Griff Wigley said:

    Carol, be sure to contact the DJJD folks. They could use a laugh. 😉

    July 22, 2010
  15. Griff Wigley said:

    The geese are now a public safety hazard.

    At about 5:30pm, all 4 lanes of Hwy 3 in front of the rodeo grounds were backed up for a block or more in both directions. Geese were leisurely crossing from Riverside Park to Babcock Park.

    What if an emergency vehicle had to get through?

    July 22, 2010
  16. mike paulsen said:

    Bend, Oregon is having a goose problem as well.

    In consultation with federal experts, they came up with a comprehensive plan which included:
    Herding geese with USDA Wildlife Services trained dogs
    Physical harassment by staff and with remote control boats, noise makers and lasers
    Oiling eggs
    Using repellents where feasible

    What ended up working?
    You guessed it, and they were delicious.

    While we wait for Northfield to duplicate Bend’s failed attempt to play Mr. Nice Guy, we might as well do our part to keep traffic moving.


    July 24, 2010
  17. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks much for the links to Bend, Oregon’s efforts, Mike. While the geese-to-food shelf option is fine with me, note how much public controversy it caused.

    July 26, 2010
  18. David Ludescher said:

    I have heard that the easiest way to keep the geese in the water is to keep substantial vegetation next to the river. Instinctually, the geese won’t go through the vegetation for fear of predators.

    Another solution is to quit expecting to use open spaces where geese like to congregate and defecate.

    July 27, 2010
  19. Bruce W. Morlan said:

    It might be useful to find out if harassing wildlife with pet dogs is illegal here in the land where nothing is legal. If I walked my lab down there and she happened to catch a goose I might end up with one sore impounded pup.

    July 28, 2010
  20. Griff Wigley said:

    David, the vegetation can work in some cases but in this case, it isn’t.

    But it makes no sense to me that we should quit using 3 parks (Ames, Riverside, Babcock) plus the trails and bridge for which we just spent a half million dollars, just because the geese like it there.

    July 29, 2010
  21. Griff Wigley said:

    Librarian Kathy Ness noted in her blog post on Northfield.org that the original location for tonight’s Books and Stars finale "was Ames Park- we moved across the river to a "goose free" Bridge Square."

    July 29, 2010
  22. Phil Poyner said:

    Excerpt from “Development of a Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard Program at Langley AFB, Virginia.”

    Canada geese- In June 1999, more than 225 resident Canada geese were molting at Eaglewood golf course adjacent to the airfield. 1st Fighter Wing Safety office (WS) recommended that the population be reduced to a manageable level via a roundup. The roundup was conducted by Langley Air Force Base (LAFB) personnel and resulted in the removal of 189 geese that were then donated to local food charities. Intense media coverage of this event and criticism by animal rights activists fostered many novel recommendations from members of the public who felt that use of lethal methods to prevent bird strikes was excessive. In an effort to help LAFB officials make informed decisions regarding future goose management, WS arranged for several product and service demonstrations including goose repellents and border collies. After the base decided that neither method was feasible or cost effective, WS developed an integrated goose management program that included intense harassment with paintball guns and pyrotechnics, construction of barrier fences and overhead grids on golf course ponds, egg addling, and lethal removal to reinforce harassment. Additionally, in July 2000 WS coordinated an effort with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to neck band resident Canada geese on the Virginia Peninsula to provide information on their movements. This integrated approach was and continues to be highly successful in reducing the threat of resident Canada geese at LAFB. Migratory Canada geese over-wintering in the area continue to present problems during January and February when large flocks visit the golf course at night to feed. In addition to increased vigilance and continued harassment during this time, LAFB is considering the use of repellents to gauge their effectiveness in reducing feeding activity on the base.

    July 29, 2010
  23. David Ludescher said:

    Griff: It doesn’t make sense to me that we spent a half of million dollars on places where geese like to sh*t.

    July 29, 2010
  24. Griff Wigley said:

    Straw poll results: How should the City solve the geese poop problem along the Cannon River in downtown Northfield?

    * Harvest the geese for area food shelves (36%, 24 Votes)
    * Use border collies to chase the geese away (24%, 16 Votes)
    * Leave the geese alone (20%, 13 Votes)
    * Not sure (11%, 7 Votes)
    * Wait to see if the tall grass planted along the banks works (9%, 6 Votes)

    Total Voters: 66

    July 31, 2010
  25. Griff Wigley said:

    Here’s a novel approach: a mechanical flying eagle from Geesebusters:

    Using a natural-like predator, such as a three-dimensional eagle which has a wingspan of approximately seven (7) feet, the eagle will turn in a prey-seeking circular motion. The Canadian Geese, Seagulls and other problem birds recognize the turning eagle as real, and immediately flee the target area. After continual harassment and conditioning, the Geese, Seagulls or other problem birds will avoid the area, seeking safer grounds.

    February 25, 2011
  26. john george said:

    Griff- Now, all I have to do is re-paint my RC plane, and maybe change the tail moment (how close it is to the wing).

    March 1, 2011

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