Martha’s Vineyard will echo with the sounds of the early goose season

Geese and their droppings are the bane of golf courses, playing fields and ponds on Martha's Vineyard. — File photo by Mae Deary

The Massachusetts early Canada goose hunting season begins Tuesday one half hour before sunrise and ends at sunset on Tuesday, Sept. 25. The timing of the season is intended to reduce growing populations of geese that have lost their natural urge to migrate with the seasons.

Canada geese feed on young growth and pull vegetation up by the roots. The large birds also produce from one half to a pound and half of droppings per day according to state wildlife biologists.

A study of fecal contamination in several Island ponds by a University of New Hampshire professor identified geese and cormorants as significant sources of E. coli bacteria.

Farmers and shell fishermen concerned about the damaging effects of a large non-migratory goose population on Island water bodies and agricultural fields often welcome the sound of booming shotguns in the early fall.

A study by Dr. Stephen H. Jones of the University of New Hampshire Jackson Estuarine Laboratory in Durham, N.H., (“E. coli Ribotyping for Identifying Sources of Fecal Contamination in the Salt Ponds of Martha’s Vineyard”) identified the most significant sources of bacterial contamination in Trapps, Eel, Farm, and Sengekontacket ponds.

Mr. Jones found little evidence of human-borne contamination and insignificant indication of pet, wild animal, and livestock sources. “Overall,” he wrote, “the results from this study are strong indications of significant bird sources, particularly cormorants and geese.”

In 2008, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) increased the daily bag limit from five to seven geese in an effort to further reduce the number of geese that have made Massachusetts their year-round home.

DFW waterfowl project leader H. Heusmann said the early season provides goose hunters with ample hunting and gives more time to landowners to allow hunters to reduce the size of nuisance flocks of resident geese.

According to a history of goose management provided on the DFW website, prior to the 1930s, it was unusual for geese to nest in Massachusetts. That is no longer the case.

Canada geese are large birds, averaging 10 to14 pounds.

The Canada goose is a grazer. Geese form permanent pair bonds, but if one bird dies, the other will seek a new mate in the next breeding season.

Adult females lay 4 to 6 eggs in a clutch. Non-breeders and yearlings form separate flocks. By fall, they all gather into one large flock for the winter.

In Massachusetts, there are two different populations of Canada geese. The first is the migratory population that passes through in the spring and fall. The second is the resident population, descendants of captive geese once used by waterfowl hunters to attract passing birds.

In 1995, the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board instituted special early and late goose seasons designed to reduce the resident goose population.