Waterfowl are known for their territorial aggression and often unusual choices of nesting sites. In the spring, downtown rooftops become the choice nesting locations for geese, while ducks tend to take up residence in suburban gardens and bushes. Understanding how these animals nest and raise their young will help these animals and the people who interact with them peacefully co-exist.
• Ducks and Geese produce ‘precocial’ young, meaning that once a duckling or gosling is hatched it is fully feathered, with eyes open and is capable of walking and foraging for food on its own
• Geese tend to be monogamous and will often return to the same nesting site year after year
• Female geese and ducks are less able to fly before they are about to lay their eggs. The male will defend his mate and nest while she is vulnerable
• Geese and ducks incubate their eggs for between 3 and 4 weeks and once their eggs have hatched, it can take goslings and duckling over 2 months to learn to fly
• Geese and Ducks are protected by the migratory bird act of Canada
Geese Nesting on Rooftops
Once a goose has selected a nesting site it is best not to disturb it. If the area is not ideal for the goose, it is important to begin deterring it from nesting prior to the goose laying eggs. The best way to accomplish this is to set up a motion activated sprinkler or owl decoys in the area where the goose is nesting. You can dismantle the nest before eggs have been laid but be aware that geese are very tenacious and will usually build a new nest right away unless otherwise deterred.
Geese and ducks are protected by the migratory bird act and their active nests are federally protected. Tampering or interfering with an active nest is against the law. If a goose has already laid eggs, it is important to keep the area free from people until the geese have left the area. Geese are fiercely protective of their nests and will intimidate and harass people who enter their territory. Placing signs around these areas will help to warn people to be aware and cautious around a pair of nesting geese.
Geese select their nesting location based on the safety and accessibility of that location. Rooftops are ideal since there is less foot traffic and the area is usually flat allowing for the goose to visualize danger long before it reaches the nest. The geese have an idea of where to lead the family to water once the goslings have hatched, and it is best to leave the geese alone to raise their family. The adults will encourage the goslings to jump to the ground and the parents will fly down to lead them to water. There are some exceptions, however, where intervention might be called for:
• If the rooftop is over 5 stories onto grass, or if the rooftop is over 2 stories onto pavement(goslings can jump and drop safely from great heights if they will be able to land onto grass or other softer substrates)
• If there is a barrier greater than 1 foot around the ledge of the roof (if the goslings cannot jump onto or over the barrier they will be stranded and unable to escape)
If the goslings are stranded on the rooftop, it is very important to contact a wildlife rehabilitation organization. They are the only people trained to deal with and relocate nesting geese and the only people authorized by the government to interfere with the nesting of migratory birds. In the meantime, the geese can be supplemented with shallow dishes of water on warm days, and thawed peas and corn can sustain them if rescue is a long way away.
Families of Waterfowl on Roadways
Geese and ducks nest quite a distance away from water. When the ducklings and goslings hatch, they are not developed enough to swim. The walk to the body of water from the nesting site allows the hatchlings to develop the leg strength that is critical to their ability to swim. Additionally, the young need time to develop sufficient waterproofing of their feathers before they reach water. Unfortunately, most waterfowl nest in the city, and reaching those bodies of water from the nesting site often means travelling through neighborhoods and across potentially busy roadways.
It is important for the public to not stop traffic on busy streets to aid waterfowl. This is dangerous and puts both people and the animals at risk. The best thing to do would be to contact the Calgary Police Non-Emergency Line (403-266-1234) and request assistance from the police to halt traffic and allow the animals to cross. If the waterfowl are travelling through urban neighborhoods, it is best to leave them be. Traffic is usually slow enough that the drivers can allow the animals to cross.
It is not normal to find a lone gosling or duckling, or even a group of goslings or ducklings without any sign of a adult. While these animals can forage for food as soon as they’re hatched, they rely on their parents to keep them safe and teach them how to find food. If you find a duckling or gosling alone without any adults nearby, it is best to contact a wildlife rehabilitation organization and take the animal to them.
It is often customary for people to want to feed waterfowl at ponds and streams with bits of bread. This can be very dangerous for waterfowl, however, as bread is not a nutritionally complete source of food for the animal. Waterfowl do not need food supplementation and feeding them can encourage the birds to remain in that location and forego migration, it can increase habituation and aggression toward people, and it can cause malformations in wing and feather development from nutritional deficiencies. Better choices for feeding would be frozen peas and corn, or shredded lettuce. But when in doubt, don’t feed the waterfowl!