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Scott Rall: Love 'em or hate 'em, Canada geese have returned to Nobles County

SCOTT RALL Daily Globe outdoors columnist When it comes to my next subject, most people will either love 'em or hate 'em. I am talking about the Canada goose. They are the very best indicators of spring's arrival in my opinion. You can take the g...

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SCOTT RALL

Daily Globe outdoors columnist

When it comes to my next subject, most people will either love ‘em or hate ‘em. I am talking about the Canada goose. They are the very best indicators of spring’s arrival in my opinion. You can take the groundhog back to the zoo as far as his ability to tell me how much winter is left.

The Canada Goose is a large bird with a wingspan of about 5-6 feet and weighs from 4-to-20 pounds. As of a few days ago, the geese that went south are back in Nobles County and the surrounding area from their annual winter vacation. My trip to my vet last week resulted in seeing geese in large numbers everywhere I looked.

There are several species of Canada geese.The bird science guys have a long-running debate as to just what is what, but there are for sure at least two different varieties and several sub-species. The largest of the bunch is called a giant Canada goose, and I remember when I was a kid, they were so rare that if you shot one, you got your picture in the front page of this paper. I thought anyone who could harvest a giant Canada had to be a professional hunter.

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The giant Canada was thought to be extinct in 1952, due to hunting, until a small group was identified in Rochester Minnesota in 1964. That town is still a hot spot of Canada goose population and Canada goose hunting in the state. A special research facility was built and within about 15 years more than 6000 of these birds had been relocated and released. Today they are so prolific that they are becoming an overpopulation  problem in some areas.

Geese can thrive in an urban city just as easily, if not more, as they can in the large wildlife refuge in the middle of North Dakota.

There are several reasons for this. In a big city, there are fewer predators to eat the parents and goslings. Feed and cover is still abundant and the human element of free welfare due to prolific feeding has allowed many cities to be over-run with geese. In the metro areas of Minneapolis/St. Paul and the surrounding suburbs, they actually pay people to kill them and take them to the processors. They ultimately end up in a food shelf.

Hunters could do this for free, but many cities have strict regulations regarding firearms discharge. So hunting them is off the table. I guess if you have plenty of tax money, there is no need to find a cheap alternative to goose round-ups. These round-ups cost many thousands of dollars in a normal year.

The smaller version of a giant Canada goose is called a cackler. They look virtually the same but smaller, weighing about 5-to-7 pounds. In many parts of Minnesota, the goose hunting is far superior to the duck hunting that was once the mainstay of waterfowl hunting across the Midwest.

Instead of getting lucky and bagging a goose every once in awhile, it is now pretty common to find them in the bags of most duck hunters pursuing a different quarry. The hunters who specifically pursue them often do very well. I had a guy in my office today say he could remember a time when Canada geese were so rare in our area that if you saw a flock of them, you would stop what you were doing and just watch as they flew by.

Lake communities that have very high populations of Canada geese have issues with water quality. Imagine a few hundred -- or even a few thousand -- geese doing their bathroom business in your lake on a year-round basis. City parks are also challenged with keeping the goose droppings off the walkways and trails humans use when enjoying a walk around the lake.

And then there is the poor golf course superintendent who has a few hundred resident geese nearby that think his golf greens are just the perfect place to hang out.

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No guns and lots of geese make for challenging management solutions in many places. Some airports have resident dogs that are used to chase off unwanted geese.  Sucking a goose into the intake of a jet engine can cause the plane to crash.

There has been an expansion of goose hunting opportunities as a result of the dramatically increased populations of this winged neighbor. An early hunting season held in September harvests local populations of giant Canada geese. Limits are higher in some areas and goose management is now on almost all wildlife managers plates to a higher degree.

Every year geese lose their flight feathers and become landlubbers for about three weeks each summer. When they can’t fly, they just walk out of the wetland to the nearest crop field and have lunch. This crop depredation is another reason to keep their populations in check.

The thing about Canada geese is that they are truly loved by many hunters and non-hunters alike. They are a majestic bird and their calls when flying bring to mind one of the most iconic sounds in all the wild. They live just about everywhere in our area, so they are easily seen and enjoyed. Resting on a muskrat house with a fresh batch of little ones is a great picture no matter how many times you have taken one.

As I look out my office at LPL Financial on Oxford street in Worthington, I see geese in the air almost all day this time of year. There is no mistaking that this bird has found a niche in Minnesota in both urban areas and around the state. I will do my best as a hunter to help keep their numbers in check, but I can say that spring in the farm country of Nobles County would certainly be different if they were not here. Take a drive and stop for a few minutes and listen to this truly majestic creature.

I, for one, can’t imagine a spring without them. Put a checkmark in the “I love them” side of the ledger for me.

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