Canada geese are among the most well-known birds in Fairfax County and a valued member of the wildlife community. It is a popular practice for residents to feed geese and other waterfowl in our parks, business areas, and on private property. Many people believe that feeding geese contributes to the overall health and survival of the animal. Others enjoy feeding geese because it allows them to have close encounters with the birds. Although these actions are well-intentioned, feeding geese often contributes to increased conflicts with humans and can negatively impact the birds themselves.
Geese can rapidly become habituated to and dependent on human-provided foods. Many of the items commonly used to feed geese (bread, corn, popcorn, pastries, etc.) provide little or no nutritional value and can cause significant health problems for Canada geese and other wildlife. Geese that become dependent on human-provided foods can suffer from malnourishment (and starvation in severe cases) as they fill up on empty calories instead of receiving proper nutrients provided by the environment. Geese also tend to lose their natural fear of humans and can become aggressive as a consequence of being fed.
Feeding attracts geese in larger numbers than natural habitats would support. Concentrating Canada geese in large numbers can:
- Cause environmental damage due to overgrazing
- Create unsanitary conditions and health concerns from significant accumulations of goose feces and feathers
- Degrade water quality and erode soils
- Create safety hazards when geese cross roadways or flock in medians, along road shoulders or at airports
- Spread diseases and parasites more rapidly within goose populations (e.g., avian cholera, avian botulism, aspergillosis)
Problems associated with feeding geese may be exacerbated during the summer months as geese naturally congregate in larger numbers during their annual molt. Like most waterfowl, adult Canada geese go through a molt in late June to early July where they shed and replace their flight feathers with new ones. Geese are flightless during this period and are joined by their young goslings who have not yet developed flight feathers. Feeding geese during this time can increase conflicts as geese are less likely to move to new areas until completion of the molt in late July and August.
In Virginia, it is unlawful for any person to place, distribute, or allow the placement of food, minerals, carrion, trash, or similar substances when it attracts any species of wildlife in such numbers or circumstances to cause property damage, endanger any person or wildlife, or create a public health concern (4VAC15-40-286).
Wildlife officials urge residents to stop feeding Canada geese. It is a common misconception that suburban areas, such as Fairfax County, are devoid of food for wildlife and that human intervention is necessary for species to survive. Suburban environments provide sufficient food resources and safety to support Canada geese – as evidenced by the abundant populations of geese present in Fairfax County. Left on their own, geese will feed on a variety of nutritious foods that are available (e.g., grasses, sedges, berries, grains and seeds) and will move to new locations when resources have been depleted.
Please respect our local wildlife by enjoying them from a distance and help keep the “wild” in wildlife.