For the second year, Nassau County has dispatched a shotgun-toting marksman to take out a flock of Canada geese colonizing the grounds of the Robert M. Foster Judicial Center in Yulee. The geese are drawn to the wide expanse of lawn and the pond, a perfect spot to graze on new grass shoots while keeping a lookout for possible predators.
“Basically, this is home,” explains Nassau County facilities operator Bill Howard. Last year, James Harrington of Wild Things Nuisance Animal Removal shot 14 geese
at the courthouse, as reported by Derek Kinner in Folio Weekly (“The Great Goose Massacre Yulee,” Aug. 27, 2014). But the problem continues.
This year, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued a permit in February to the county, giving permission to kill 20 birds. The city awarded a contract to Harrington at $55 a bird or $1,100. But turning the grounds of the courthouse into a shooting gallery is not just inhumane — it only clears prime real estate until a new flock takes over. From May through August, the geese are in mating and molting season. They’re tending nests, caring for goslings that haven’t grown their flight feathers or molting themselves. The geese lose their flight feathers after mating season. They are literally sitting ducks, biologically incapable of flying from predators or shotgun fire. No less august and level-headed an animal welfare organization than the Humane Society of the United States calls killing geese at this time of year “inhumane.”
The geese are nuisances. That’s not up for debate. They try to scare people off by flapping their wings, squawking and charging (though they don’t actually attack). They land on cars and scratch up the paint. They poop everywhere.
Geese Peace, a national nonprofit, recommends a population reduction program that is “economical, humane and without controversy.” Geese Peace’s population control program is multipronged, including everything from birth control and planting tall grasses on pond shorelines to employing a herding dog on land and in water by kayak to create predator threat. So why the rush to death?
Nassau County’s Howard says that they’ve resorted to killing because nothing else works. On the courthouse, the county installed ultrasonic devices meant to scare off the birds. Then they called in Harrington because the geese didn’t leave. But the Humane Society says ultrasonic devices don’t work because geese adapt to the sound.
These are not the migrating Canada geese whose flight across the sky in a V-formation heralds the changing seasons. When migrating geese were hunted to near-extinction in the 1960s, repopulation efforts created burgeoning flocks of non-migratory resident birds. Canada geese return to Canada to build nests where they were hatched, but geese hatched at the Nassau County courthouse will return there. Geese Peace says in three years — when the last of the hatchlings born this year return to nests — the population can be reduced to a manageable number.