It was a rare sight in those days. To catch a glimpse of a Canada goose -- and hear the characteristic honking as a flock flew over in V formation -- was a thrill for this young boy.
It's not quite the same feeling today. Across suburban landscapes, Canada geese are as common as dirt, and even less popular. We don't see them as majestic waterfowl; instead, they're viewed as overbearing pests that are nothing more than an annoying, messy nuisance.
Geese at a glanceCanada Geese:
• Eat 3-4 pounds of food per day and leave 1-2 pounds of droppings
• Live 25 to 30 years
• Monogamous and mate for life; in 15 years, a goose couple can multiply to 1,500 geese
• Nest from March through May; average 5 goslings per year.
If you've walked your local parks, trails, golf courses and school grounds where geese frequent, you've experienced the onslaught -- and probably brought home a souvenir on the bottom of your shoe.
So how did it get like this? How did our communities become so overpopulated by a species of bird that was once critically endangered and remains federally protected?
To put it simply, they like living with us in our urban environment with all its manicured lawns, retention ponds and open grassy areas.
But the feeling isn't mutual, which is why the Fox Valley Park District utilizes a management program in partnership with Wild Goose Chase Inc. to rein in goose populations at many of its 164 parks.
Our parks are public and meant to be shared -- wildlife included -- but it's gotten out of hand. Rather than exterminate geese (which is illegal), the park district is striking a healthy balance by keeping goose populations under control through safe and environmentally friendly practices.
The most common and effective deterrent is the border collie chase program. Border collies bear a strong resemblance to coyotes -- natural predators of geese -- in both appearance and behavior.
But these herding dogs don't simply chase the geese. Their menacing "eye" and instinct to stalk rather than chase establishes a predator/prey relationship. Geese are frightened by the dog's presence because they're viewed as a threat to them and their young. Their safe haven -- in this case, the local park -- has been invaded by the enemy. It doesn't take long for geese to grow weary from the worry, at which point they vacate the park and find another location where border collies don't roam.
In recent years, the park district has allowed natural vegetation to grow along the borders of lakes and ponds, rather than mowing to the water's edge. These "buffer strips" discourage geese from congregating (for fear of hidden predators) and also serve double duty by filtering impurities from draining into the water.
You can help control resident goose populations -- and provide them with a healthier existence -- through one, simple form of restraint: do not feed the geese!
No matter how well-intentioned and heartfelt, hand-feeding is actually harmful to the geese in that it creates overcrowding, which leads to increased susceptibility to deadly diseases that can spread quickly among the flocks.
And we all know what a dirty mess that's left behind by geese in areas where they've gathered. Watch your step.
Canada geese are now Fox Valley neighbors -- and they're here to stay. Through education and cooperation, we can all learn to live together in harmony.
• Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To report issues with geese in parks and nearby properties, contact the park district at (630) 897-0516.