Swans Could Chase Away Geese, But They Could Turn Out To Be A New Menace

Hey Johnston: Before moving to the Bothell-Woodinville area, I lived in Minnesota, and we had a Canada geese problem there, too.

But officials were able to solve it by bringing in swans. They are a real enemy of Canada geese. It didn't matter if they were real swans or plastic ones. The geese stayed away. I've tried to call people who might be able to use this information, but they all have voice mail, and no one returns my calls.

How can I get the word to the right people?

Answer: Well, now you've got the attention of the folks in King County who have been trying to figure out what to do with the 5,000 Canada geese refusing to migrate.

This will be remembered as the summer that geese poop shut down several King County lakeside parks.

King County and some Eastside cities have tried several ways to get rid of the geese. They hired a woman with dogs to chase them off the lakes. They have captured geese and sent them away to find a new life. Some have even been sent to the butcher shop to be made into ground patties.

But like you said, some towns have found a solution that works for them. The question is whether it can work for us on the Eastside, because the cure may be worse than the disease.

We found a town in Illinois named Schaumburg that tackled its goose problem by renting a pair of muted swans to start a nest near the town pond each spring.

The town clerk said the swans, which can weigh up to 50 pounds and have wing spans of 7 feet, are very protective of their nesting area. That nesting area includes the whole village pond, and the male swan will chase away any goose making the mistake of wandering into his turf.

And that's the drawback to swans. They chase away geese but also chase people and any other animal coming near their nests.

Jennifer Thillemann of D.P. Church Landscape in Wadsworth, Ill., said her company rents out muted swans (but not trumpeter swans, which are protected by federal law) to towns and businesses each spring to get rid of geese.

"People like swans because they keep the lakes clean," she said, "but they can be aggressive through the mating season."

A male swan will chase away any goose that comes within several hundred feet of its nest. Thillemann said if the goose doesn't leave after being chased, the swan has been known to kill with its wings or drown the goose.

She said the towns also have to warn residents about the behavior of the swans.

"Whoever puts out the swans should have a meeting or put up signs to warn people," she said. "The biggest problem is people bothering the swans. They will hit you."

Thillemann said she got a large bruise on her leg when she got too close to a nesting swan and the male hit her with its wing.

King County Parks' Al Dams, who is heading up the county's efforts to find solutions to the goose problem, said aggressiveness is the trouble with swans.

"If you introduce them to a park, they will attack people as well as geese," he said. "They are extremely territorial and when you have a small swimming area, that could be a problem."

But Dams said the Waterfowl Management Committee is going to follow up on your suggestion of using swans. They are also going to look into using plastic swans as scarecrows.

How to Just Ask Johnston: This column appears Mondays and Wednesdays in the Eastside edition. Leave your questions on Steve Johnston's voice mail at 206-464-8475. Or write: Just Ask Johnston, c/o The Seattle Times, 10777 Main St., Suite 100, Bellevue, WA 98004. The e-mail address is east@seatimes.com