How to Convince Geese to Stop Eating the Grass (The Final Word Opinion Column)

Coping with the neighbors: Drastic measures are needed when geese find your lawn too tasty to ignore



Illustration by Chris Reed

Some people count sheep before drifting off to sleep, but I count geese.

When my husband and I moved to our Putnam Valley lake house, we were excited to see Canadian geese gliding by our lawn. Our seller assured us that they were no problem. He maintained that they would sail by and never come onto the property.

His report about the geese visits was accurate, and for the next four years we smiled smugly at each other at the community cocktail parties where geese stories were exchanged. But the wheel was about to turn.

During the spring of our fifth year in residence, we hired a specialist to improve our lawn. Within weeks, the grass was greener — and sweeter, too. One afternoon, as I settled in my favorite chair to enjoy the sunset, I was startled by a large goose sitting tall and strong on a nest on our stone wall. Treading water, like a soldier guarding his queen, was her male partner and protector. I named the couple Mr. and Mrs. Gooseby.

Although filled with admiration for my new friends, I realized that the nesting of geese was not acceptable to our neighbors. I made an immediate call to Mr. Cox, the supervisor of the lake.

He soon arrived carrying a large umbrella. His job was to addle the eggs: “We shake ’em til the incubating embryo gets sent to heaven,” he said. He shooed the angry mother-to-be away from the nest, and started to pick up the egg.

“Please stop, Mr. Cox,” I said. “I’m sorry, but I can’t allow you to do this. I want Mr. and Mrs. Gooseby to have their little family.”
“Sure thing, ma’am... But you aren’t going to be popular with your neighbors.”

Mrs. Gooseby continued to sit on the eggs for about two weeks. One day, I peeked in the nest and found five baby geese. From that day on, we were visited by Mr. and Mrs. Gooseby, their little ones, and all of their friends.  Our new lawn was now populated every morning and evening with 12 to 20 geese.

Because geese have extremely active digestive systems, crossing the lawn to the lake became an exercise in avoidance. My feathered friends had become a nuisance, but I couldn’t hurt them in any way. What was I to do? I had sleepless nights counting geese.

I decided that I would try to coax the Goosebys and their friends to gobble the grass on the public beach next to our property. Mr. Cox suggested that I ring a large cowbell, which I did. The geese lifted their beaks from the grass, but then continued eating. When that didn’t work, I tried burlap fencing at the lakefront to encourage the geese to swim the extra 50 feet to the adjoining beach. Nothing persuaded them.

I was discouraged. Then I had an epiphany. The geese visited the lawn to nibble on the grass. What if the grass disappeared — would the geese go next door?

“Dear, I’ve been thinking...” I said to my husband.

“Yes, I know that it’s been a difficult task to tell the geese where to eat,” he interrupted.

“I have an idea. What if we remove the grass?”

“Take up the new lawn?” he said angrily. “Have you lost your mind? Do you really want to look at dirt instead of lush green grass?” 

“I will build lovely walkways, plant a colorful flower garden, and create islands of shrubs.”

“I wish you luck with your venture,” he moaned, and went to bed.

A month later the project was underway. We covered the grass with building paper, and held it down with logs. In six weeks, the grass died. The flower garden was created, and circles of varied shrubs were in place.

I realized that we would have no more need of fertilizers, which could contaminate the lake water, and no further cutting of the grass with a machine that belched unpleasant fumes. The project was completed.     

The grass was gone. The cafeteria was closed. It was amazing to watch Mr. and Mrs. Gooseby swim past the new installation to the grass next door.

Most of the shrubs are now in bloom, the ground cover is flourishing, and the flower garden is a riot of color. The property is environmentally green. We view our sunsets with joy as we watch the geese swim by. We are pleased to have the Goosebys next door.

And most importantly, I sleep well.

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