Sunday, January 07, 2001

Canada geese wintering here

Birds not migrating as usual

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor

        Beverly Tsotsos loves geese.

        But not when hundreds of them clog the parking lot of the Firstar Bank branch she manages in Crestview Hills, intimidating drivers and keeping them from the drive-through lanes.

        Ms. Tsotsos' problem is geographical — the bank is about 20 feet from a pond at Thomas More College where dozens of Canada geese are wintering this year.

        “My drive-through customers have to beep to get through our drive-through,” Ms. Tsotsos said Friday. “It seems they're just all over the parking lot. But they're so pretty. I tell people don't beep at them; they'll go away.”

        Northern Kentucky has become a resort of sorts for geese headed south for the winter. But more are staying here longer than usual, ex perts say.

        Rocky Pritchert, a wetlands system program coordinator for the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife, said a record 5,000 of the migratory birds have prolonged their stop in Northern Kentucky. He calls the situation a “bonus.”

        “A lot of people get to view geese who don't (normally) have the opportunity,” he said.

        One of those people is Jerry Coldiron. He supervises the Boone Links golf course near Burlington, and Lassing Pointe, a course in Union.

        He said geese have been a problem for at least the last five years. He has tried making noise and chasing birds out of the ponds.

        “They're not migrating. They live there,” Mr. Coldiron said.

        Mr. Pritchert's estimate of 5,000 birds may be a bit low, said Frank Floyd, an assistant for the Fish and

        Wildlife Department who works from his home in Bedford.

        The birds can be a nuisance, he said, and not just because of the droppings they leave. The geese make for noisy new neighbors.

        “Some of them land on golf courses and subdivisions where there's small lakes,” he said. “Sometimes the old gander will chase a small dog.”

        Recently, a golfer got too close to a nest looking for a lost ball, Mr. Coldiron said. The goose grabbed his putter and flew above the lake, dropping it into the water.

        So how did Northern Kentucky become a southern spa for Canada geese?

        There are two things geese love: open bodies of water and abundant food supplies.

        The geese used to migrate through this area on their way to Alabama, Mr. Pritchert said. But in the past few years, relatively mild winters have had them stopping earlier.

        “Because of changes in agricultural practices and weather patterns, they migrate only as far as they have to,” he said.

        Birds that have become accustomed to venturing only as far as northern Ohio are coming to the Cincinnati area because the winter has been colder than in recent years. Here they find ponds, as well as corn and soybeans left from the fall harvest.

        People have tried unusual remedies to shoo the birds along, including hiring Geese-B-Gone, a Walton business that employs border collies to herd the geese away. Owner Terry Moore said the dogs just have to stare at the geese, and the birds, perceiving them as predators, fly away.

        Demaree Watkins, a leasing agent at Harper's Point apartment complex in Symmes Township, said her office used decoy geese until someone stole the them last summer.

        There are really two types of Canada goose: those that weigh 7-9 pounds and call James Bay, Ontario, their home and the 10-12 pound birds from southern Manitoba. Until the 1960s, they were thought to be extinct.

        Some of the winged visitors have orange bands attached by the U.S. Geological Survey's Bird Banding Laboratory in Maryland to identify the birds for research purposes.

        Mr. Floyd said people should not feed the these animals, no matter how insistent they are.

        “Once you feed 'em, they'll come back and they'll become a nuisance,” he said.


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