Waterfowl Damage Assessment

Waterfowl | Waterfowl Overview | Waterfowl Damage Assessment | Waterfowl Damage Management | Waterfowl Resources | Waterfowl Acknowledgments | ICWDM | Wildlife Species Information


Damage and Damage Identification

Canada Geese, Branta canadensis

Canada Geese, Branta canadensis

Goose problems in urban and suburban areas are primarily caused by giant Canada geese, which are probably the most adaptable of all waterfowl. If left undisturbed, these geese will readily establish nesting territories on ponds in residential yards, golf courses, condominium complexes, city parks, or on farms. Most people will readily welcome a pair of geese on a pond. They can soon turn from pet to pest, however. A pair of geese can, in 5 to 7 years, easily become 50 to 100 birds that are fouling ponds and surrounding yards and damaging landscaping, gardens, and golf courses. Defense of nests or young by geese and swans can result in injuries to people who come too close.

Migrant waterfowl damage agricultural crops in northern and central North American. In the spring, waterfowl graze and trample crops such as soybeans, sunflowers, and cereal grains. In autumn, swathed grains are vulnerable to damage by ducks, coots, geese, and cranes through feeding, trampling, and fouling. Young alfalfa is susceptible to damage by grazing waterfowl. Geese sometimes damage standing crops such as corn, soybeans, and wheat. In southern agricultural areas, over wintering waterfowl can cause problems in rice, lettuce, and winter wheat.

Mergansers, mallards, and black ducks cause problems at some aquaculture facilities by feeding on fish fry and fingerlings. Common eiders and black and surf scoters cause problems when they feed in commercial blue mussel and razor clam beds. For more information, see Bird Damage at Aquaculture Facilities

Legal Status

In the United States, migratory birds, including most waterfowl, as well as their nests and eggs, are federally protected (50 CFR 10.12) by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) (16 USC. 703-711). A complete list of all migratory birds protected by the MBTA can be found in 50 CFR 10.13. Also, all states protect most waterfowl. Exotic and feral waterfowl species including mute swans, greylag geese, muscovy ducks, and Pekin ducks are not protected by the MBTA, but may be protected by state law or local ordinance.

Table 1. Members of the families Anatidae (ducks, geese, and swans), Rallidae (coots and rails), and Gruidae (cranes) occurring in the United States listed as endangered in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 50, Sec. 17.11, 10-1-92 edition.

Laysan duck (Anas laysanensis)
Hawaiian duck (Anas wyvilliana)
Aleutian Canada goose (Branta canadensis leucopareia)
Hawaiian goose (Nesochen sandvicensis)
Hawaiian coot (Fulica Americana alai)
California clapper rail (Rallus longirostris obsoletus)
Light-footed clapper rail (Rallus longirostris levipes)
Yuma clapper rail (Rallus longirostris yumanensis)
Hawaiian moorhen (Galinula chloropus sanduicensisie)
Mississippi sand hill crane (Grus canadensis pulla)
Whooping crane (Grus americana)

Persons wishing to take any migratory bird outside of the legal hunting sea-son must first secure a federal permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and in some cases a state permit. “Take” means to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect (50 CFR 10.12). “A federal permit is not required to merely scare or herd depredating migratory birds other than endangered or threatened species or bald or golden eagles” (50 CFR 21.43a).

Three species and one subspecies of waterfowl that occur in the United States are listed as endangered in 50 CFR 17.11, October 1, 1992 edition (Table 1). In addition, five subspecies of rails, and one species and one sub-species of crane are listed.

Contact personnel from your local USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services office for information on obtaining a federal permit to take migratory birds.

“Landowners, sharecroppers, tenants, or their employees or agents actually engaged in the production of rice in Louisiana may, without a permit, shoot purple gallinules (Ionornis martinica) when found committing or about to commit serious depredations to growing rice crops on the premises owned or occupied by such persons between May 1 and August 15 in any year.” (50 CFR 21.45)

Economics of Damage and Control

Waterfowl cause significant losses to agricultural and aqua-cultural crops, damage golf courses, cemeteries, lawns, and gardens, and contaminate reservoirs. Their activities can cause real economic hardship, aggravate nuisance situations, or create human health hazards. A reliable figure for the total national economic loss caused by waterfowl does not exist. The following examples serve to illustrate the magnitude of the problem, however.

In 1960, waterfowl caused an estimated $12.6 million worth of damage to ripening small grains on the Canadian prairies. In 1980, waterfowl were credited with causing $454,000 worth of damage to small grains in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota combined.

The 1989 appraised crop losses due to goose damage totaled $105,000 in the four Wisconsin counties surrounding Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). It is estimated that in the autumn of 1989 over 1 million interior Canada geese passed through Horicon Marsh NWR. This area has one of the largest and most active goose damage abatement programs in the country, with an annual budget of more than $135,000.

Goose damage to golf courses is difficult to quantify. A survey in 1982 of 219 golf courses in the eastern United States, however, indicated that 26% had nuisance Canada goose problems. It is not uncommon for geese to cause $2,000 to $3,000 damage per year to a golf course. Two golf course superintendents in the greater Cleveland, Ohio, area estimated that Canada geese caused between $2,000 and $2,500 worth of property damage to each of their courses in 1989. Three other golf course superintendents, in the same geographic area, estimated that they spend $1,000 a year just cleaning up Canada goose droppings, exclusive of any direct property damage.

Waterfowl | Waterfowl Overview | Waterfowl Damage Assessment | Waterfowl Damage Management | Waterfowl Resources | Waterfowl Acknowledgments | ICWDM | Wildlife Species Information

Summary of Damage Prevention and Control Methods

Habitat Modification

Vertically straighten pond banks.

Allow ponds to freeze in winter.

Eliminate vegetation (nesting/escape cover) in and around ponds.

Reduce or eliminate fertilizer use around ponds.


Install fence around ponds, gardens, and yards.

Install overhead grids or netting on ponds, reservoirs, and fish raceways.

Cultural Methods

Change the timing of planting and harvesting of vulnerable crops.

Produce winter grains instead of spring grains.

Use grain dryers to allow earlier harvest of high-moisture grain.

Plant crops uniformly in spring. Delay fall plowing as long as possible. Use less-preferred plant species in parks, cemeteries, and lawns. Plant trees and shrubs to block flight path. Provide lure crops. Field baiting.


Mylar tape.
Water spray devices.
Automatic exploders.
Recorded distress calls.

Live Capture

Walk-in funnel trap.

Rocket/cannon nets.

Spring-powered nets.

Net launchers.



None are currently registered.


None are currently registered.


Hunting is the preferred method of reducing localized populations, where safe and legal.

Hunting has a strong repellent effect.

Killing under special permit is advised only in extreme situations.

Other Methods

Destruction of nests and eggs helps to slow down local population growth.