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Successfully Discouraging a Seasonal Nuisance

Nestled amongst large oak trees and the green landscaped hills of West Chester, Pennsylvania, is the Penn Oaks Golf Club. Only 25 miles west of Philadelphia and 17 miles north of Wilmington, Delaware, this private non-equity golf club has over 300 members who enjoy an 18-hole course with 6,610 yards of golf from the longest tees for a par of 71. But our members aren’t the only ones who love the lucious green turf, abundance of water features, and diversity of wildlife. The Canadian Goose has also considered a temporary membership to the Penn Oaks Golf Club.

For us, these geese present a number of hazards. Outside of the potential for aggressive behavior toward members, each goose can eat up to three pounds of grass per day and a small flock can quickly render grassy spaces unusable, leaving them stripped bare, prone to erosion, covered with feces. The costs of repairing overgrazed areas and the cleanup of goose droppings can be substantial. The nitrogen content in the droppings can contribute to excessive algae growth in course water hazards. Direct contact with the grounds water areas mixed with the birds and the mess they were leaving behind was something our members had increasingly voiced concerns about. Members wanted to know if the water was getting contaminated and wondered if it was safe to put their hands in the water to retrieve their missed golf balls.

Five years ago, when Steve DiMarco purchased the golf club, he shared with the staff and the club members his vision of what Penn Oaks was going to be. Our job is to help provide and create an environment that is entertaining, relaxing, safe and clean. I’ve been the Superintendent of Penn Oaks Golf Club for over 17 years and I know our management strives to cater to its members and really meet their needs. If we can provide them with a facility that meets the highest of standards and expectations, the members will come, so we weren’t about to ignore their concerns.

It’s important that the wildlife and the golfers are able to co-exist. The increase in new homes and businesses in the area has reduced areas for the wildlife such as deer, fox, ducks, and other wildlife to live and raise their young. Golf courses are able to provide homes for this wildlife. One of my most exciting days on the course is when I see the new fawns, kits or ducklings that were born just a few hours earlier. We need to break the cycle, however, with the geese. If we can convince them to raise their young elsewhere, their offspring will not imprint on our golf course to return to each year.

These geese are creatures of habit and will congregate, nest and raise their young near ideal food sources. Their numbers have been increasing over the last decade in part due to their protected status by both federal and state agencies. There are around a dozen subspecies of Canada geese, all with long black necks and heads with large white cheek patches meeting under their throats. Their body feathering is generally a gray-brown with a slightly darker breast and underpants. The tail feathering is generally white underneath and the Canada Goose ranges in size from 22 to 48 inches long, weighing anywhere from 3-4 pounds up to 24 pounds. Golf courses and country clubs are prime target areas for Canada geese to graze and nest and once they move in, they won’t move out. Sure, they eventually migrate but are likely to return to the same spot next year qualifying them as virtual club members, not visitors.

The challenge was to find a means of evicting them as well as discouraging their return. With the Canada Goose, we needed something that was safe and humane because these birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. One of our club members brought us an EPA-approved goose repellent called FlightControl Plus by Arkion Life Sciences. The spray gives geese that feed on the treated turf a harmless digestive irritation, delivering the message that something is wrong with the food source. The applied compound also absorbs ultraviolet light, which only geese can see because unlike humans, who only have three retinal cones, geese have four – giving them an additional vision of UV light. This creates a visual signal geese will immediately associate with the stomach irritation brought on by feeding in the area.

The combined effect teaches geese to recognize and avoid grassy areas that have been treated. Essentially, we are training the birds. Wherever they moved, that’s where we would go. We didn’t want them to gather and eventually they wouldn’t return to that area. They would move out in search of a better food source.
Our plan was to move the birds to a new location in a safe and humane manner. In the morning, we’d scout the golf course and look for droppings or birds. We could see a trend of where the birds were seen. We’d spray those areas and create a border where we didn’t want them to be. It was amazing! A day after spraying we would watch the geese come up to the point where the spray was and watch them stop, they didn’t go any further. If we sprayed during the nesting period, they moved on and began a new search for a safe place to nest. Having dogs chase the remainder away has been a help as well, but it was not effective alone since the geese would fly to the middle of the pond. They also quickly learned that they could come back later since the dogs were not patrolling 24/7.

We added FlightControl to our normal spray routine and are relentless and repetitive when it comes to maintaining the grounds. The spot spraying is very effective. We’re saving in turf repair and clean up. The course is cleaner, the members
are happier, and the program is much
more cost effective than you’d think.
I mow, I spray, we all work together to accomplish the day-to-day goals we have set. Ultimately, I am responsible for communicating to members and owners that we are doing everything we can to make our golfers feel comfortable and safe while being friendly to the environment and still being able enjoy the wildlife. I didn’t want to hurt the geese, but couldn’t let them stay.

A year ago we had up to 1,000 Canadian geese visiting our course, now I have about 5-6 that are a part of our seasonal wildlife at the end of the course.
If you’re interested in trying our methods using the same product, find out if this application suits your course by visiting
www.flightcontrol.com.

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