Those glorious geese. Their sounds signify a changing of the seasons. We all look in wonder as they fly in perfect formation. They're beautiful, majestic and seem to know just where they're headed. And while most people may ponder exactly where it is they go each season, many golf course superintendents immediately suspect these flying flocks are most likely destined for his or her golf course.
And why wouldn't geese head straight for the nearest golf course? With highly-manicured turf and abundant sources of water, golf courses provide an ideal habitat for geese, especially during their molting season when they lose their flight feathers. While some may only stay for a short time, others have adapted to their surroundings and taken up permanent residence. No matter their duration, once they arrive they can wreak havoc on a course, quickly making them unwelcome guests.
The birds feast on the tender grass on fairways and greens. Probably the biggest complaint golf course superintendents have in regards to geese is the droppings they leave behind. Not only are these droppings unsightly, but also they can make traversing cart and foot paths a lesson in agility and, at times, block play. Additionally, geese can become aggressive when golfers stray too close to nesting sites.
A quick, non-scientific poll of superintendents revealed that most regard geese as beautiful birds. It's only when they come in such large numbers — producing even larger messes — that they quickly wear out their welcome.
With many courses creating bird and wildlife sanctuaries, how can superintendents, golfers and geese reasonably share the same land? A number of options are available and fall into two main categories: hazing and habitat modification.
Hazing geese offers numerous tactics for harassing or scaring geese into leaving an area. Generally, hazing tactics are not considered to be harmful to the birds. However, because geese easily adapt to their surroundings, superintendents must change their scare tactics often. It's important to quickly implement hazing methods once birds are consistently noticed in a particular area because as the flock grows, it will become increasingly difficult to move geese from the area.
So how do you haze geese? Noisemakers, visuals and the use of dogs are all popular options.
Noisemakers can include propane cannons, bangers and screamers, sirens, air horns, whistles and goose distress calls. Before using any of these methods, it's important to be aware of local noise restrictions, especially in the case of residential golf courses.
Visual frightening devices may be better suited for residential courses with noise ordinances. Mylar scare tape, plastic flags, bird balloons and scarecrows are some of the most common methods of visual hazing. You can use mylar scare tape as a streamer if birds fly into the site, and as a fencing device if the geese are walking into unwelcome areas.
The bright colors and large eyes found on bird scare balloons can be threatening to geese. You can fill these balloons with helium and tether them 15 to 20 feet above the ground or stake them between trees.
Scarecrows resembling humans or even goose decoys with stretched necks can be an effective visual method as well.
Using trained dogs, usually Border collies, can be a very successful hazing method. The dogs, which should always be accompanied by a handler, chase geese on command and discourage them from nesting or living on the course. While spring and fall are the best times to use dogs, it's wise to supplement this with a continuous program to keep geese away, especially considering that they like to return to the same area year after year.
- Fence barriers
In addition to using scare tactics, building barriers such as fences and overhead lines to curb access from the water to feeding areas can help reduce conflict with geese. This method is most successful when you place the barrier along the shoreline before spring nesting and at times when young birds will not be land-trapped. The low fencing, which should be about 30 inches high, can discourage feeding. Fencing can be made with a variety of materials, including, but not limited to, chicken wire, netting, chain link, monofilament line, stainless-steel wire, wooden pickets or mylar tape.
To boost the effectiveness of fencing, install a system of parallel lines suspended 1 to 2 feet over the water surface to restrict bird landing, takeoff and swimming.
Habitat modification, usually considered to be most effective in the long run (especially when used in combination with scare tactics), is another approach to controlling geese on golf courses. It is also considered to be the most humane and environmentally-friendly management philosophy, as well as the easiest to implement during course design. At its most basic, habitat modification includes the elimination of a food source, shelter and water. While it isn't possible to completely eliminate these sources, even slight alterations can make an impact.
Geese tend to feed and nest near bodies of water. When they leave that body of water, they look for easy access to the land. They also like a clear view to keep an eye out for trouble.
Considering that making major modifications to your course's turf is most likely not an option, making changes to the shoreline may be a better alternative. Making shoreline banks steeper and placing footpaths close to water's edge will help deter geese. And adding natural obstructions such as rock barriers and vegetative buffers to straight, uninterrupted shorelines will make land access more difficult for geese. You can also arrange boulders larger than 2 feet in diameter in formations approximately 10 to 20 yards apart along the shoreline. These rock formations can also add visual impact to the area.
Planting a vegetation buffer is yet another way to impede the birds' access from the water to open, grassy areas. They typically avoid nesting, feeding or lingering in places where grasses, shrubs or plants block their view. An added benefit of vegetation buffers is that they could help protect the ecosystem by acting as a filter, removing any pollutants that could flow into the waterways. To be most effective, make the plantings at least 2 feet high and thick enough that the geese can't see though them.
Catherine Williams is a freelance writer who resides in Hickory, N.C.
SAVE THE BIRDS
While geese and other birds and wildlife can be troublesome at times, there are many golf course superintendents who have worked to create wildlife and bird sanctuaries at their courses. Since 1991, Audubon International (different from the National Audubon Society) has been assisting golf course superintendents to integrate sound environmental management practices into the management and operation of their courses. Through collaborative efforts with the United States Golf Association (USGA), the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP) for golf courses has grown to include more than 2,300 courses in all 50 states, Canada and around the world.
The program can be tailored to a variety of golf course properties, including private clubs, public and municipal courses, PGA sites, nine-hole facilities, resort courses and golf residential communities.
Six core focus areas make up the ACSP — environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, chemical use reduction and safety, water conservation, water quality management and outreach and education — and can take two to five years to complete the certification process.
“It's a pretty intense program with a lot of documentation, and it takes a lot of commitment,” says Brian Stiehler, golf course superintendent, Highlands Country Club, Highland, N.C. “But we felt it was worth it. We're located in the mountains of western North Carolina, so almost everyone who comes here has a love for the outdoors of some kind. It's also a proactive step to show the community that we're committed to and care about the environment,” he adds.
But the program isn't all work and no fun, according to Stiehler.
“Our guys really enjoy this. We learn a lot. We have fun,” he says. “Part of what we do is build, monitor and inventory bird houses. We also go to various local garden clubs and other clubs to talk about what we're doing. Everyone really takes an interest in it.
“It's definitely an education process to learn what we can do to make golf courses safer for the environment,” notes Stiehler.
For more information on Audubon International, visit www.auduboninternational.org/programs/acss/gofl.htm.
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