Now and then we get reminded that most animals are much smarter than most humans. Deer hunters are reminded of it every time we sit in a tree on a 12-degree morning – only to be reminded that deer are generally too smart to be out and about in sub-freezing weather.
Yet there we . . . sit.
The latest reminder comes in the form of research at the University of Illinois, and it comes with insight about another animal that goose hunters have long branded as “smart” – the Canada goose.
For years, goose hunters have tried to tell every other human that geese are quick to figure things out to avoid danger. You may get one shot at a Canada goose, but you rarely get two.
THE TEAM AT THE U OF I wasn’t looking at the goose’s ability to recognize sticky situations and adjust, so as to not end up with BBs in delicate parts of its body. The team was actually looking at why it’s so difficult to thwart – harass is the word they use – large geese that have taken over many urban parks, golf courses and front lawns. Not many years ago, Canada geese avoided people, particularly those sitting in blinds and holding shotguns. Today we see them everywhere – that is, everywhere except flying over blinds where people are holding shotguns.
Many geese have become urban because they’ve learned that where there are humans, there is food. Smart.
“Canada geese collide with aircraft, intimidate unassuming joggers and leave lawns and sidewalks spattered with prodigious piles of poop,” a report on the U of I study begins. “They’re widely considered nuisance birds, and municipalities invest considerable time and money harassing geese to relocate the feisty flocks. But research shows standard goose harassment efforts aren’t effective.”
AFTER LOOKING AT CANADA GEESE in Chicago, U of I researchers figure geese simply “have acquired more grit in the busy urban environment, making them less easily spooked.”
Researchers came into this project aware that some geese were migrants from rural areas and some were longtime Chicago residents. Neither group of geese seemed to mind harassment, no matter the form in which it came.
Mike Ward, professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the U of I and co-author of the study, said his work isn’t the first to find harassing geese does not work, “but it is the first to explain why,” he said. Ryan Askren, Ward’s doctoral student, worked with USDA’s Wildlife Services to mess with Canada geese at Marquette Park near Midway Airport. He reported that Canada geese “have excellent memory and a keen ability to discern legitimate threats from mild annoyances. “
Ward offered, “People don’t realize how smart geese are.
They’re nesting on top of buildings. I mean, who would have ever thought a goose would nest on top of a building? They should be nesting in wetlands. But they’re very adaptable.”
Then Ward said one more thing frustrated goose hunters in Illinois have known for decades: “Geese have learned what the real risks are over the course of their lives, or from others.”
Unlike many humans, I might add.