Broken goose egg spurs concern with Stratford's goose-management program

A broken goose egg found in a nest along the shores of the Avon River in Stratford has raised concerns with the city's goose-control methods, however city staff say the embryo had already been terminated prior to the egg being broken, and it was left in the nest to dissuade the geese from laying more eggs.

A pair of geese and their goslings feed along the north shore of Lake Victoria Tuesday afternoon. Galen Simmons/The Beacon Herald/Postmedia Network

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Two photos of a broken goose egg in a destroyed nest on the banks of Lake Victoria that were shared on a Stratford community Facebook page last week have caused a public outcry and concern with the city’s goose-management program.

On May 15, Stratford resident Jeff Phillips posted the photos, which show a pair of geese investigating a broken egg shell in a destroyed nest, to his Facebook page. His post was subsequently shared to Stratford community Facebook pages.

In this photo, posted to Facebook by Stratford resident Jeff Phillips, a pair of geese investigate a broken egg in their nest at some point last week. According to Stratford parks staff, the embryo was terminated before the egg was broken, and the shell was left in the nest to dissuade the geese from laying more eggs. Photo taken from Facebook post

In the post’s comments, numerous residents shared Phillips’ concern the city’s goose-management contractor, Heff’s Hives and Trapper Dan, had gone beyond the trained dogs, drones, and laser lights used to scare geese from nesting along the downtown Stratford section of the Avon River and a population-control tactic known as goose-egg addling – terminating viable embryos within the eggs laid along the river.

“Canada geese are protected. A licence to destroy eggs, to control populations, is possible. Does the town have a permit to do this?” St. Marys resident Reg Quinton commented.

Stratford resident Kathleen Trachsel called this approach “an awful way to treat wildlife,” .

“Do they not think these poor geese have any feelings? I think it’s terrible to destroy any nests and to break eggs. Canada Geese are supposed to be protected and I think that should include their offspring.”

According to Stratford parks  manager Quin Malott, the embryo inside the egg had been terminated prior to it being broken, and the eggshell was left in the nest to dissuade the pair from trying to lay more.

“Once the nests are located in early spring, they are monitored until a full clutch of eggs –approximately six to eight eggs – has been laid,” Malott told the Beacon Herald Tuesday. “At this point, the eggs are oiled. Once the eggs are over the incubation period, they are removed from the nest. The contractor suggested we leave one expired egg broken in the nest to give the illusion (of predators in the area) and remind the geese this is not a safe place to reproduce.”

However, Malott acknowledged the practice of leaving broken egg shells in nests did cause alarm among residents and visitors concerned for the welfare of the geese and their eggs, so the city has instructed its contractor to remove all non-viable eggs to prevent future confusion.

“Some nests have had clutches hatch already and those shell remnants will remain in the nest,” Malott said. “The program is very successful in managing the overpopulation of geese and nest work is a very important part of our process because, like many others, we do not relocate or exterminate birds.

“It is important to remember the program is about balancing our small park ecosystem with best practice to obtain a healthy population so all can enjoy the park system.”

Now in its second year, Malott said the city’s goose-management program has reduced the resident population around Lake Victoria from an estimated 200 birds down to just 20 mating pairs.

Staff say the program, which cost taxpayers roughly $32,000 last year and will cost more than $50,000 this year after being extended from April through October, has been successful in curbing the goose population and reducing goose poop on city sidewalks. But Coun. Cody Sebben, the only councillor to vote against the program, argues the biological and environmental data available on how the program impacts the local population isn’t sufficient enough to call the program a success.

“Part of my argument, when I opposed it before it was implemented, was we don’t have any solid data,” Sebben said Tuesday afternoon. “We didn’t have any data about how many geese were at the river year over year. We didn’t know – and we still don’t know – if this is a normal fluctuation in geese without the program. We didn’t have any data on what an acceptable amount of geese is, as far as capacity of nature and the ecosystem. We didn’t have any data to support anything, and my concern at the time was that if we brought on this program without any data as a baseline, we would sort of be stuck with it, and that’s where we’re at.

“We’re stuck with this program that started at $32,000 and now it’s over $50,000, and we didn’t start out with any data to tell us if it’s effective. … To say it’s effective is not really accurate.”

Editor’s note: Jeff Phillips, the Stratford resident who posted the photos of the broken goose egg to Facebook, told the Beacon Herald after the story had gone to press that he personally witnessed someone who identified themselves as the city’s goose-management contractor breaking the egg and returning it to the disturbed nest.