Debra Karplus/Voices | Learning to co-exist with critters of all kinds

Debra Karplus/Voices | Learning to co-exist with critters of all kinds

By DEBRA KARPLUS

No matter where you live, you're bound to encounter unwanted, sometimes pesky animals, large or small.

For example, the summer I spent in Upper Peninsula Michigan in a beautiful cabin on Lake Superior. One of the most beautiful places I've ever seen, I was warned about dangerous black flies and aggressive bears.

And while visiting friends in the other Twin Cities (St. Paul-Minneapolis), one spring, we had to stop our car driving through her neighborhood, allowing a large turtle, approximately a foot in diameter, to cross; and turtles are not fast.

Living in a sesquicentennial neighborhood near downtown Champaign for 38 years, I learned to make peace with the groundhogs, AKA woodchucks that dug holes under the house; they're really cute, but they are rodents.

We also had opossums, pretty, in an ugly sort of way, and rather creepy when encountered in your yard at night or hidden in the garage.

We also had woodpeckers, seemingly harmless birds, but they can ruin trees. And, there was the occasional bat that found its way into the house if you kept the door open too long after dusk. It's wonderful that they eat mosquitos, but they can be a bit scary, and rumor has it that some may carry rabies, so you don't want to get too friendly with bats.

Moving approximately 2 miles south, I traded in all those critters for something completely new to me, and somewhat unexpected. Geese!

They love water, including the ponds near my house. You recognize these Canada geese, because these days, they seem to be everywhere. Recently, I spotted a flock of geese in the high school parking lot, nowhere near any water.

Their name may be a bit of a misnomer, because the word on the street is that they never go to Canada. They just stay here, because it's comfortable and there's plenty to eat. Same reason we all stay here.

When I first moved to this upscale neighborhood, while taking my daily walk around the ponds, I was a bit put off to see droppings all over, what I thought was from dogs. It was on the sidewalks, street and plenty of it on my driveway.

I quickly learned that these little piles weren't the result of irresponsible pet owners but rather were from the geese.

Cleaning off my driveway has become a daily task.

Neighbors seem increasingly bothered by the geese. I did a little research, and now I understand why these geese are more of a menace around here.

I learned that geese live to be approximately 25 years old. They're superior to some members of the human species, as they mate for life and take good care of their offspring. And speaking of offspring, they can lay as many as 10 eggs per season. You do the math.

Additionally, here in Illinois, and possibly other states, they're essentially treated like an endangered species.

The Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Illinois Wildlife Code make it illegal to remove geese or to damage their nests or eggs. Those who shake the eggs or spray them with oil had best not get caught.

I've had several friends offer to show me their acumen with hunting gear, but I told them that, too, could get them in serious trouble with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

It's a pity really, because my winter jacket is looking "flat" and could benefit from more goose down.

Any of my meat-eating friends would savor sitting down to a meal of cooked goose, as much or even more than a turkey dinner.

It's known that geese can be aggressive. You've heard the expression "don't get your feathers ruffled." You'll witness exactly what that means, and even be hissed at, and possibly physically attacked by one of these 25-pounders, if you behave in a way that makes a goose feel threatened, especially during the April mating season, where eggs are hatched or when the young ones arrive around early May.

So what's a neighbor to do? Around March each year, you'll see folks scurrying around their property blocking off any possible place where geese might lay eggs, because once they use that spot, that'll be their nest, forever.

Geese prefer dark, cozy spots such as under shrubbery, and, like rodents, they can squeeze into surprisingly tiny places.

Neighbors have gotten fairly creative with barricades using fencing materials, still keeping their property beautiful, but hopefully goose-free.

I've learned to treat geese with utmost respect. We can all happily co-exist.

Debra Karplus is an occupational therapist and freelance writer living in Urbana-Champaign. Check out debrakarplus.blogspot.com.

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