At the suggestion of some bird club members I am drafting a resolution to bring 
before the Cayuga Bird Club meeting tomorrow night asking the City of Ithaca  
to halt its plans to ban feeding waterfowl, to haze geese on City land and 
water, and to disrupt nesting. Reasons are several and may include: 

The process was wrong. The recent “stakeholders” meeting did not include a 
particularly interested, knowledgeable, and passionate group, namely local bird 
enthusiasts such as the Cayuga Bird Club. The one time we were included it 
seemed that participants agreed to try habitat modification to make areas 
unattractive for geese which are prime areas for human use and where it is 
especially desirable not to have goose droppings. We believe this would be 
least expensive and most effective in the long run as well as least disruptive 
to the peaceful atmosphere of City Parks. However, this appears not to have 
been done and instead it appears that a Parks Commission subcommittee has since 
taken an entirely different course without the participation of this 
stakeholder group, and the Planning and Economic Development Committee of 
Common Council intends to rapidly push it through despite numerous and serious 

Renwick Wildwood Sanctuary on the south side of Stewart Park was created as a 
bird sanctuary through the work of the Cayuga Bird Club. The Fuertes Sanctuary 
in the west end of Stewart Park was created as a waterfowl sanctuary in honor 
of renowned artist and beloved Cayuga Bird Club President Louis Agassiz 
Fuertes. The shallow south end of Cayuga Lake is an important area for 
waterfowl of many species during migrations and winter, while a few individuals 
may remain over the summer as well. A significant portion of the population of 
one species of duck, the Redhead, winters on Cayuga Lake, and it is common to 
see flocks of thousands of them from Stewart Park. Canada Geese are the most 
easily recognized waterfowl by the lay-public, but there are two 
similar-looking species of goose, as well as several different looking goose 
species. It is entirely inappropriate to harass waterfowl in the Steawrt Park 
area. We also believe it is wrong to promote or institute as an official policy 
the harassment of birds. Canada Geese are not dangerous like rabid raccoons; 
geese stick out their tongues and hiss when people threaten their young. Canada 
Geese don’t wreck cars, destroy food gardens or ornamental plants, or wipe out 
the understory of forests like deer do; geese just eat grass, perhaps even 
saving the City money on mowing. 

Stewart Park is an especially wonderful place to view a great variety of 
waterfowl species from many parts of North America, sometimes at very close 
range and among Canada Geese on land or in the water. The habituation of the 
local waterfowl to people can bring other species closer. It is not unnatural 
that birds tolerate people when people are not mean to them; rather it is to be 
celebrated. This is a wonderful education opportunity which connects people to 
wildlife, emphasizes our ecological connectedness to other places, and promotes 
conservation. Harassment of geese will not only be unpleasant to people, it is 
apt to disrupt the activities of other species of birds as well, including 
Common Mergansers, Hooded Mergansers, Wood Ducks, and Mallards which also nest 
feed, display, and raise young locally. 

We have no evidence that feeding waterfowl is a problem, that it happens often 
or in great quantity, that it contributes significantly to the birds’ diet or 
the amount of poop they create, or that it creates any health problem. However, 
what little feeding which occurs can be very educational and create a lasting 
positive feeling toward wildlife. Stopping feeding will not stop the geese from 
coming to the parks to eat the grass, which they do daily. While we support the 
City using the Ithaca Police Department to enforce its ban on shooting on City 
land and water and keeping guns out of Stewart Park, we do not support using 
police resources to ticket someone feeding birds in Stewart Park, such as a kid 
with a bag of popcorn or a family with a loaf of bread, which are harmless 
activities. We believe feeding waterfowl should not be banned. 

We value education, but the education suggested by the City’s program does not 
comport with what we observe or know to be true. Grain is not unhealthy, waste 
grain powers goose migrations of hundreds of miles. Flocking is perfectly 
normal. The ill health we see appears to be largely due to injuries by hunters. 
Sometimes a few geese of other species join the local goose flock for days or 
weeks while pausing to recover from the stresses of migration. Presumably some 
migrant Canada Geese do this as well, but it is harder to tell. We see no 
evidence of ill health from a bad diet or from supplementary feeding. We would 
like to collaborate with any education efforts by the City. 

The tolerance of the geese toward humans creates a wonderful educational 
opportunity which would be spoiled by making them afraid. Young students can 
observe behavior and learn to interpret the meanings of different postures. If, 
as suggested, geese are to be banded, given individual tags, collars or 
markings, they could be individually tracked as a Citizen Science project. 
Older students could try to determine local goose population dynamics: Where do 
they come from? Where do they range? How many are here at various times of 
year? How many nests are there? How many eggs? How many fledgings? How many 
survive to adulthood? What are their natural predators? What is their average 
lifespan? Hazing and disrupting their breeding not only would cut off these 
educational opportunities, and keep us from learning about the geese. 
Understanding the geese should come before starting any control program, not be 
an afterthought. 

We understand that goose poop is the real issue, not the geese themselves. Why 
is there so much? Geese graze. Canada Geese in our parks eat the grass. Grass 
is not very nutritious, so they must eat a lot. However, geese can’t afford to 
get heavy or hold the grass inside them for a long time like a cow does to get 
the maximum food value. Geese must be able to fly in case of predators, 
therefore they process the grass quickly and minimally, and poop it out. David 
Attenborough talked about this in his famous television series, The Life of 
Birds. The goose poop we see is bright green inside and shows individual grass 
fibers. Sure, no one wants to lie down in it or eat off the ground, but dirt 
and lawns never were sanitary places. While people have a natural aversion to 
feces, it should be understood that goose poop is very different from the feces 
most people deal with from humans, dogs, and cats. It isn’t stinky, it decays 
quickly, and it is very similar to the paste of grass clippings from the inside 
of a lawnmower. For poop, it is very benign. People should understand that. 
Meanwhile, the question is, where is it most important that there not be goose 
poop, how much trouble and expense should be taken to ensure that, and how best 
can it be done without disrupting the wonderful situation we have with 
waterfowl in Ithaca? 


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