By Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 14, 2005
Stratford Landing, a lovely neighborhood not far from George Washington's Mount Vernon, has a problem. A geese problem. People feed them, and the geese are so grateful that they stay.
They waddle on docks along Little Hunting Creek, into the meticulously groomed back yards that flank the water, and they even wander up to Stockton Parkway, disrupting traffic. They confront people out for daily strolls, honking belligerently for a meal.
One thing about Canada geese: They don't like to be disappointed when it comes to food. They're nasty. They believe in biting the hand that doesn't feed them.
And even worse: These beautiful creatures poop. Frequently. Green poop that turns back yards into fecal nightmares. Canada geese poop production has been estimated to be at least a half-pound a day per goose, so if a flock of three dozen geese while away the afternoon on someone's lawn, or a few hundred congregate -- doing what they do best -- the coverage can be extensive.
But for the geese-plagued residents of Stratford Landing, relief may be on the way. With residents lamenting a decline in their quality of life, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors next week will consider a geese-be-gone ordinance that would prohibit the feeding of geese and ducks along Little Hunting Creek. Anyone who tosses so much as a kernel of corn could face a $50 fine. The ordinance would be enforced by animal control officers.
"This is a pilot program, but if needed, it could be expanded" throughout the county, said Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon), who represents the area.
"The people that engage in the feeding activities think that they are doing no harm and helping the geese," Fairfax County wildlife biologist Earl Hodnett said. "The geese have plenty to eat. They don't need help. I would be hard-pressed to come up with an example of any species of wildlife at this latitude or longitude that needs supplemental feeding. There is plenty of food in nature for them, even in the winter."
Geese are everywhere in the area. The migratory birds have taken up year-round residence. The climate agrees with them, and there's plenty to eat. They love golf courses, particularly the par-5 holes where there's plenty of fairway for taking off. At 10 to 14 pounds apiece, they need a long runway to get their plump bodies off the ground. Baseball and soccer fields are geese favorites because they delight in feasting on tender young shoots in freshly mowed grass. And they've adapted to suburban habits. Why eat grass when you can have Wonder Bread?
The geese have been visitors in Stratford Landing for ages, but problems reportedly intensified a few years ago when a resident moved in and began feeding them in his back yard.
"I'd have 50 of them every night sleeping on my dock," said H. Jay Spiegel, an intellectual property lawyer who lives along the creek. "Every morning I'd have to go out there first thing to wash . . . the dock because you don't want it drying up."
Spiegel said residents asked their new neighbor to stop feeding the geese, but it did no good. And it wasn't just the one neighbor, he said. People came into the neighborhood to sit by the creek and feed the geese -- including a UPS driver who used to take his lunch hour there every day, bringing along a loaf of bread for the geese. When the geese spotted the big brown truck, they would trip over themselves getting out of the water to charge the vehicle.
"It is a nuisance," Spiegel said, "and it is a health hazard."
He decided to do something about the situation. He got community associations in the area to endorse a plan to ban feeding, and last year the General Assembly passed a bill allowing local governments to prohibit the feeding of waterfowl. That set the stage for county action.
"I have seen other feeding areas in the county that have attracted several hundred geese at a time and several thousand geese during the day coming in different shifts," Hodnett said. "After geese feed, or before they feed, they congregate on those properties and just loaf."
They leave sidewalks and grass a mess, and Hodnett said he has seen homes where geese have fouled roofs and even picture windows.
"It is hard for people not living near those areas to appreciate the magnitude of this ordinance," he said.
Spiegel said the geese problem has abated somewhat since summer, when he threatened his neighbor with a lawsuit if the man didn't stop the handouts. But he said the geese still come looking for the UPS guy and other people with food to share.
"When you tell people to stop feeding the geese, you are telling them to stop doing something they enjoy," he said. "And they just look at you like you're the nut."
But if the ordinance passes, Spiegel and the rest of Stratford Landing's residents will have a no-feed rule with some bite.
"It gives us a tool to use so that people will stop engaging in this behavior when asked," Spiegel said.