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Goosey, Goosey Gander, Where Do You Wander?

One reader’s quest to gander a gaggle sent us to the experts

On a recent trip down to my pier, I found a gaggle of interlopers monopolizing the planks and moorings. Geese. Loud, messy and surprisingly aggressive long-necked Canadas were using my pier like a roadside rest area.
    I was happy they’d be on their way north in a few weeks.
    Reader Bill Seabrook doesn’t share my uncharitable attitude toward these migrating fowl. He wrote in to find out why his recent birding walks in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties have turned up so few Canada geese sightings.
    “It seems to me that we have many fewer migratory geese staying in our area this year, compared to what I remember seeing in the past,” Seabrook wrote. “Has anyone else noticed fewer geese than usual in these parts?”
    Not Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
    Waterfowl Project Leader Larry J. Hindman reports that this year, geese flocked to Maryland in record numbers.
    “There could be changes in numbers of geese at a very local level,” Hindman concedes to Seabrook. “But the number of Canada geese that have wintered in Maryland this year is probably the largest we’ve had in years because of the cold temperatures north of us.”
    How do they know the numbers? Canada reports them.
    “There’s a survey done each year mid-June counting the number of migratory geese in Northern Quebec,” explains Hindman. “Last year, 150,000 of them.”
    These surveys are done before the hatching of goslings, which ups the population significantly.
    “With goslings, there were probably more than one million Canada geese,” says Hindman. “About half of them winter in Maryland.”
    With all those birds setting up homes, the effect has been surprisingly negligible — so far.
    “It’s mostly been frozen so they don’t do much damage to grain fields,” Hindman says. “When it thaws and gets wet, geese can pull up young wheat plants and actually do some damage to crops. We’ve been fortunate in that it’s been fairly dry.”
    This dry spell might have sent the geese further afield in search of food, which could explain why Seabrook has seen few on his birding walks. Hindman reminds Seabrook that he can also view our native goose population, which is between 50,000 and 60,000.
    The numbers for our native geese are acquired by surveys conducted in more than 100 randomly selected acres throughout Maryland. The surveys of local geese are conducted in April, before goslings hatch.
    That’s one big gaggle.
    As for a possible dip in the migratory or native goose population, Hindman assures me that Maryland Department of Natural Resources would take note of such an important absence in Maryland’s ecosystem.
    “Maryland is known for its Canada geese population,” Hindman says. “It’s kind of a trademark bird for this area, and goose hunting is synonymous with Maryland.”
    That’s great, but I wish they’d be synonymous off my pier.