Fairhope to ticket people feeding geese


FAIRHOPE – Residents and visitors giving bread and popcorn to geese on the city beach could soon be receiving a ticket and fine under an effort to cut waterfowl numbers.

Fairhope police will start issuing warnings to anyone feeding geese and ducks at the beach near the Fairhope Pier or on other municipal property. The warnings include a notice that feeding waterfowl is against the law in Fairhope. By mid-September, police will start ticketing violators, Mayor Karin Wilson said.

Visitors to the beach have complained about the number of Canada geese at the park. City officials are taking a variety of steps to reduce the number of geese.

Droppings from the birds have been cited as one possible reason for elevated bacteria counts in Mobile Bay at the site. Elevated bacteria levels were one reason the beach was listed as the dirtiest in Alabama in a study released in July by the Environment America Research and Policy Center.

Wilson said the feeding ban is one of several ways that city officials are trying to humanely reduce the goose population.

“We’re trying to get the word out for people to not feed the geese,” Wilson said. “It can’t be more timely right now with the enormous concern about the health of bay. This is a way that everyone can help do their part.”

Canada geese naturally migrate south to spend the winter in warmer climates before returning north. When the geese, however, find a constant, steady food source, some tend to remain throughout the year. This has been the situation at the park and other locations, according to city officials.

The mayor said city officials will be putting up additional signs stating that feeding the geese and ducks is illegal.

Wilson said feeding the waterfowl is bad for the birds.

“It damages their digestive system and it’s not their natural diet. It makes them dependent on you and kills their natural instinct to feed themselves,” she said. “The ordinance has been in effect for a year now, however, this has not reduced the habit enough, so we have to start enforcing it more.”

Other efforts include using lights to disturb the geese while they’re trying to sleep at night. The city has also had a company demonstrate a program in which border collies stalk the geese without attacking them. The idea in both cases is to make the geese uncomfortable about their surroundings without hurting them that they will leave.

City officials have also approved a plan to relocate some of the geese next June after their molting season. For about three weeks each summer, Canada geese lose their flight feathers and cannot fly. At that time, the birds will be rounded up and moved to another location, such as wooded areas in north Baldwin.

Some of the birds will return after their feathers grow back, but some may not. Predators are also expected to reduce their numbers while the geese cannot fly.

At their peak before the molting season, about 250 Canada geese were reported on the beach and other city property. Since the molting season, that number has dropped. About 25 or 30 geese are believed to be on the beach now, Lynn Donnally Maser, city projects manager, said.

Jack Burrell, city council president, had endorsed the efforts to reduce goose numbers, but said Friday that Fairhope officials need to look more closely at the link between waterfowl, human sewage and the elevated bacteria levels.

“We don’t just need to say that the beach is polluted. We need to determine where it’s coming from,” he said.

Burrell said city officials or environmental groups need to compare bacteria levels with the number of geese at the park and determine if levels go up when more geese are present.

He also said officials in some areas of the country are looking at ways to test water for chemicals that might indicate if the pollution has a human cause. Tests for substances such as caffeine or artificial sweeteners have been suggested to confirm if the material came from humans.

Richard Johnson, public works director, said city officials will propose to the council that bacteria samples be taken when goose numbers are low and if the waterfowl population increases again. He said comparing the levels should help Fairhope determine how much the geese contribute to the pollution counts off the beach.

Johnson said the reduction in geese numbers recently may also be an indication that some efforts to cut the population, such as encouraging residents not to feed the birds and increasing the number of lights, could already be working.