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Honked off! Geese flee the 'wild' outdoors

GOLD HILL — For the better part of a decade, Jeanette McConnell has had a love-hate relationship with the Canada geese that congregate outside her kitchen window.

The geese have loved her manicured yard along the Rogue River so much they regularly invited dozens of their friends to eat and lounge there all day.

And McConnell has hated their presence so much that she's subjected them to everything from hunters' shotguns to personal tirades and even local talk-radio to make their lives as unpleasant as possible.

"I'd flap my hands and scold them sometimes, and I've put the hose on them," says McConnell, 88. "I'd even put KMED on to frighten them.

"They're pests and they made my life miserable," she says. "I decided I had to declare war on them."

So this fall, McConnell took a new, drastic step.

She did nothing.

McConnell stopped mowing the grass that the geese enjoyed, and the strip of riverside land that once looked more like a putting green has become tall, thick rough.

The geese apparently have become so honked off by McConnell's lack of hospitality that they're boycotting her Lampman Road residence en masse.

"They don't like tall grass, so we're letting the grass grow," McConnell says. "And now, finally, the geese aren't here."

McConnell is the latest in the slowly-growing list of Oregonians who are discovering that, if they stop turning natural habitat into wildlife day-spas, the critters will stop treating their property like a vacation destination.

It's as simple as residents along Roxy Ann Peak, who quit planting roses in black-tailed deer winter range, and riverside residents who actually abide by riparian-protection laws by leaving their streamside vegetation alone.

Keeping even small but critical pieces of Oregon just a little wild is as good for the goose as it is the landowner.

"I'm all for people letting (their yards) be as wild as they can be," says Rosemary Stussy, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist who handles wildlife-damage complaints here.

"It still surprises me that a fertilized lawn is somehow better than a healthy riparian zone for geese," Stussy says. "But, when you invite animals in they get used to people and then they get an attitude."

Stussy annually fields up to 1,500 complaints about wildlife with attitudes, with the top four offenders being cougars, bears, raccoons and deer.

Complaints about Canada geese amount to fewer than two dozen a year, but they have the same rhythm to them.

Often, the first few geese move in like advance scouts, finding the lush lawns of landowners who might leave a little grain or cracked corn out for them. Then they return with the zeal of a biker gang, running roughshod over their hosts.

"Mostly what I hear about them is their nastiness, that they poop all over the place and are coming onto the deck," Stussy says. "You can get attitude off these animals."

During hunting season, there's nothing like thinning the flock to get across the message that it's time to move on. But outside of the season, things are different.

Geese are federally protected, so Stussy can't issue kill permits to put the fear of Remington into the flock outside of hunting season. Instead, she issues hazing permits for virtually anyone who asks.

Shotgun blasts, chasing them with the family fido and, yes, even talk radio are acceptable hazing methods.

"You can do anything you want to run them off, short of injuring or killing them," Stussy says.

McConnell has tried all of these at one time or another since her late-husband, Jarrett, first put some corn out for a few honkers more than a decade ago. In no time, it was as if their yard got a five-star rating in goose travel guides for these frequent fliers.

She's invited a few hunting friends to take a shot in her yard during past seasons.

"I once had a 91-year-old guy who got two geese at one time with one shot," she says.

But combating these year-round squatters has become a full-time job in recent years.

Armed with one of Stussy's hazing permits, she's tried everything imaginable, including water shot from hoses, noise and regular "scolding" by an arm-flapping McConnell.

"If I don't try to control them a little bit all the time, they take over the whole place," she says. "It's miserable."

Blaring the conservative KMED talk-show hosts earlier this year showed promise, initially.

"I decided they were Democrats because they left," she says. "But it only worked once."

Bumping around the Internet one day this summer, her daughter discovered tall grass as a goose-busting agent.

So McConnell let the grass grow about two months ago.

The webbed wonders have taken a dislike to the lack of an easy path from the water to the porch.

Eventually, they decided someone else's backyard putting green would be better than McConnell's fledgling riparian habitat.

"They haven't been there for a month or more," McConnell says. "It's been the best time I've ever had.

McConnell plans to continue letting the grass and brush go wild along her slice of the Rogue, and she prays the geese will continue to just go away.

"That would be such a blessing," she says. "I just detest those geese terribly."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.