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Vol. LXII, No. 6
March 19, 2010

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Quick Primer on Feathered Cohabs
Geese Mating Season Holds Potential Pitfalls

Spring is in the air and our resident Canada geese are pairing up. NIH Landscape Architect Lynn Mueller has some advice for sharing the campus peacefully with its feathered residents. Soon the goose (female) will be looking for a nesting site that will be seriously guarded by the gander (male), he notes. Contrary to popular belief, geese do not need to nest near water. “Sometimes they will select, to our way of thinking, inappropriate real estate—planter boxes, rooftops or sidewalks and building entrances,” Mueller points out. “No matter the location, the gander will aggressively protect her day and night.”

Canada geese mate for life and are dedicated to each other and to their goslings. Females will begin laying eggs about the last week of March through early April. The eggs, from 3 to 8, will hatch in about 21 days with the young ready to leave the nest almost immediately to search for insects and tender green shoots. The gander’s aggressive behavior may include hissing, standing fully upright with neck outstretched, full wing displays and false or real charges.

Goose hatching eggs
Two Geese Geese Eggs
With spring in the air, NIH’ers should be on the lookout for geese family scenes similar to the ones above, documented in photos from May 2009.

“Our best defense against an aggressive gander is to give him as much room as possible,” Mueller suggests. “Only if you get too close to the nest will a male actually charge. That is usually his last defense. Once the eggs hatch and the family begins to move off, the adults, especially the gander, will begin to relax.” Also, don’t worry about young goslings hatching on rooftops. At the encouragement of the adults on the ground, the light fluffy young will jump safely to the ground.

The apparent large influx of birds over the past 2 years is the result of construction activities across Rockville Pike at the Navy Medical Center, Mueller explains. Building activities near their ponds and meadows have sent the birds to NIH with hopes of finding a more peaceful environment.

Females who had successful nests last year will often return to the same area the following spring. “Past campus locations that have been nest sites and that you should be aware of in the coming weeks are near the Bldg. 5 front entrance, parking lot 4A planters, Bldgs. 31B, 38 and 45 cafeteria roofs and the construction site for future Bldg. 35,” Mueller says. “However, since the population is increasing every year and may double every 5 years, they may set up housekeeping anywhere across the NIH campus.”

The Office of Research Facilities recently placed wildlife crossing warning signs at campus entrances and near common road crossing points. Be aware of wildlife families crossing roads and give them the right of way.

Finally, remember: Canada geese are protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Act of 1918. A special U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit is necessary to remove an adult, eggs or a nest. Fines can range up to $10,000. Report aggressive goose behavior to the ORS Division of Occupational Health and Safety, Community Health Branch at (301) 496-4294. NIHRecord Icon

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