Why Don’t Geese Leave Reston? Wildlife Management Specialist Explains

This article was submitted to Reston Now by Dave Ryan of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

No matter how much some readers may yell at certain pesky geese to stop blocking Reston roadways and pooping on its sidewalks, some of these wildlife neighbors never seem to get the message that they should fly away or migrate to more natural areas.

Why is this? Katherine Edwards knows.

In a Jan. 18 presentation to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Reston Community Center Lake Anne, Fairfax County Wildlife Management Specialist Dr. Katherine Edwards explained that there are two distinct populations of Canada geese that inhabit Fairfax County — migratory and resident. Present-day resident geese originated from captured migratory ones that decades ago had their flight feathers clipped, and were then largely used as live hunting decoys.

Even when these captive birds were released or escaped and no longer had their flight inhibited, they did not resume their ancestral migratory patterns. The reason: For a goose to migrate, it must be taught the flight path by its parents or flock.

Successive generations of geese never learned to migrate. Over time, the birds and their descendants, while able to fly, lost the instinct and need to migrate — so they’re blissfully happy taking up permanent residence right here in Reston.

According to Edwards, communities like Reston provide an abundance of ideal nesting and foraging habitat for geese in the form of lawns, sports fields, golf courses, parks and ponds. With relatively few predators around, goose populations are safe to expand in suburban areas. However, this increase in goose numbers often leads to conflicts with humans in terms of overgrazed lawns, accumulated droppings, molted feathers and roadway hazards.

Edwards added that the county uses a variety of methods to manage resident geese, including habitat modification and egg oiling to reduce flock growth.

For more information about wildlife in Fairfax County, visit the Fairfax County website. For more information about how the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at George Mason University provides educational, social and cultural opportunities to citizens of Northern Virginia, visit its website.

Photos courtesy David Ryan/OLLI

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