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Myth Busting...About Geese

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Myth Busting...About Geese

From GooseWatch NYC
July 2012

geese Canada goose
Photo courtesy of Jim Roberton, Animals in the Wild

MYTH: If geese become dependent on being fed by people and such feeding is discontinued, the geese would starve to death.

FACT: Geese are not dependent on humans for food. Geese love bread and grains but grass is their main source of sustenance. They go where the grass is. (You don't see anyone feeding them on a golf course.) Resident geese don't migrate because they never learned the migrating patterns of their ancestors.

MYTH: Resident Canada geese defecate up to 92 times a day, for an average total of 1/3 cup of dry feces and one pound of wet feces. The feces contain many harmful bacterium, including: Cryptosporidium, Campylobacter, Giardia and Salmonella.

FACT: No research supports these notions. "Geese feces are no more dangerous than other feces and probably a lot less so than human feces," says David E. Stalknecht of the University of Georgia, who co-authored a study on bird droppings for The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Geese present no more of a health risk than any other species, including cats and dogs, says Dr. Julia Murphy, public health veterinarian for the Virginia State Department of Health. “Certainly there’s a possibility of pathogens (disease-causing bacteria) in fecal material but as a particular risk factor in and of itself, there simply is no direct link,” says Murphy. You would have to ingest droppings to experience discomfort (such as mild gastrointestinal cramps or upset stomach), she adds.

Nationally recognized waterfowl specialist Tim Ford, a former Harvard University researcher, also says he knows of no studies linking Canada geese to human health problems. “The science just isn’t there to support that reasoning,” he says. "Numbers of Cryptosporidium associated with Canada geese and waterfowl in general are likely to be unimportant ...in my mind there is no possibility that the Canada goose will ever be a major route of infection." Ford, now vice president of The University of New England, also points out that Canada geese are exceptionally clean. "They don't frequent garbage sites or hang out near waste plants," he says. "The public should be more concerned about the bacteria associated with surface water used on golf courses than the presence of geese."

Retired wildlife disease specialist Kathryn Converse also says she has never seen research that links Canada geese to human health problems. "My feeling is that if you want to kill geese, at least be open about it ... don't use their health as an excuse (to try to win public acceptance)," she says. Murphy, the Virginia veterinarian, offers this advice: "Wash your hands after being outdoors, and keep tabs on youngsters too young to tell feces from dirt. If you step in goose poop or get a little on your hands, wash it off."

Nor do geese contaminate waterways. "Typically geese don't defecate in water," says Jodi Minion, a wildlife biologist with PETA. "One of their peculiarities is that they prefer to leave their droppings on land."

HSUS states, “Scientific studies do not show that goose droppings pose any special health threats. Obviously, people want to avoid contact with any animal droppings. Ordinary good hygiene, such as washing hands and leaving shoes at the door, are adequate prevention if you accidentally contact animal droppings.”

MYTH: When people feed geese, this domesticates them.

FACT: People feed geese because they enjoy it, and of course - like junk food to children, the geese like it too! However, research indicates that white bread can stunt growth, particularly in goslings. Feeding cracked corn and other grains in winter, however, particularly when grass is scarce, is fine. Does feeding create a bond between human and goose? Of course. Geese adore humans they trust. Therapists also say that such bonding is good for the soul, that caring about wildlife makes us feel good about ourselves both as human beings and good stewards of the earth. There are good reasons not to feed Canada geese, but feeding does not cause domestication.

MYTH: The meat from Canada geese is fit for human consumption, will be processed locally and distributed to local food banks to feed the hungry.

FACT: This is an age-old ploy to try to gain public support. Few food pantries and homeless shelters now accept geese meat because research shows that the grass upon which geese graze is generally laden with pesticides and other toxins. The meat would have to be tested beforehand to make sure it is not toxic, a measure which can cost up to $100 per goose.