Originally published in The Topeka Capital-Journal
Shawnee County is no stranger to the damage a flock of geese can cause.
In November 2014, the Shawnee County Commission authorized the county's parks and recreation department to ban the feeding of wildlife at Lake Shawnee, including an effort to post signs around the lake saying "Please Do Not Feed The Wildlife." Those who violate the ban would receive a warning on the first offense, with repeat offenders subject to subsequent fines varying from $50 to $500, according to a Topeka Capital-Journal article.
The lake in recent years has had problems with eutrophication -- a process which occurs when a body of water contains too many nutrients, likely as a result of fertilizer runoff and animal waste -- which causes excess algae to grow.
However, feeding bans are just one technique properties can consider to control a goose population.
A Colorado man's bright-orange invention is changing the way some properties are managing unwanted goose populations and the mess they leave behind.
Five years ago, Randy Claussen created The Goosinator -- a retrofitted remote control airplane turned bird-seeking missile -- after his brother-in-law, who worked at a golf course, asked him to build something to help control a wild goose infestation. Two years later, the Denver native's design worked so well that he began selling Goosinators for $3,000 a pop.
"Really, the way The Goosinator works is you teach geese that a predator has moved in on the property and will pursue you any place that you go, including the water," Claussen said. "A lot of times you might look at it and go 'Oh that's kinda cute.' But Cornell and other universities did studies on the characteristics that geese hate the most, and what I did was I embodied all of that in The Goosinator."
Claussen said he wanted the invention to be effective, user-friendly and durable.
"Geese see this as a predator, and it really is effective because of that," Claussen said.
The Goosinator has already made a splash with several parks, golf courses and homeowners associations across the nation. The odd-looking piece of equipment is used for "humane hazing," a nonlethal management strategy to controlling geese. In 2012, Denver Parks and Recreation purchased two to control waterfowl congregated in city parks after receiving numerous complaints from individuals and city council officials regarding an excessive amount of geese and goose feces located on sidewalks and play areas in City Park and Sloan's Lake Park.
A Denver Parks and Recreation document outlining the purchase of the product said, "The Goosinator acts as a combination of both a Border Collie and a remote controlled boat, so up to 90% of geese on a property can be removed. It can also go on ice and snow unlike a remote control boat, and water, unlike a dog. The Goosinator has the colors of a natural predator for geese, so they get scared very quickly and fly off."
The city has purchased four more since its initial transaction.
"The first one I sold was February 2012, and even the ones that I sold to begin with are still operating today," Claussen said. "So, it does last, it does work, it does have a lasting effect. There was a golf course in Denver that had 128 nests. After one season of using this ... they got rid of 90 percent of them. The second year I asked, 'Did you get rid of the remaining 10 percent that was left,' and he said 'Yes, we might have one nest remaining but I don't think so.' "
Claussen also said Alvamar Golf Course, 1800 Crossgate Drive in Lawrence, has shown interest in purchasing Goosinators for their goose population once it had the funding.
Some businesses in the area even specialize in goose removal, such as Catch-It Wildlife and Pest Control, Inc. The company, which has been in business in northeast Kansas for 26 years, uses a variety of techniques to harass the waterfowl into leaving a customer's property, such as using a trained border collie to patrol the area and chase geese away without killing them, oiling goose eggs as a form of birth control, chemical treatment of lawns to deter wildlife and using lasers at night to drive geese out.
"It basically is kind of an on-site estimate, depending on the size of the property and the size of the population," owner Steve Painter said. "Obviously, if somebody's got five birds or 10 birds, it's going to be different than somebody who's got 50 or 60."
The company also offers roundups during the molting period, which typically runs mid- to late-June. During the molt, geese can't fly, so the company corrals the geese and ships them to a wildlife refuge in Colorado.
"A combination (of techniques) always works greatest, but obviously the roundup works out really well because you're getting rid of them," Painter said. "But with that said, it's like a vacuum once you remove those geese ... if the habitat's there and it's attractive, that's why they've got a goose problem to begin with. Usually just one time isn't going to do it, it's going to have to be a management program where we come out every year to do the egg oiling and probably every year to do the roundup, or every two to three years. It really depends on the population."
'It's a gimmick'
Painter, who said he had seen pictures of The Goosinator online, thought the product was creative but ultimately wouldn't be effective.
"These people come up with all kinds of gizmos now. It's really not practical," Painter said. "I mean, it looks good and they'll probably sell a hundred of them or whatever, but it's just a little one-trick pony. It's a gimmick."
Painter used another example of people who put fake alligator heads in their ponds to deter geese.
"It's so stupid," Painter said. "What goose in their right mind is going to fly into the state of Missouri or Kansas and go, 'Oh, it's an alligator!' We don't have alligators here, it's not a predator. It looks like a log. It's just a quick fix."
However, Claussen believes his creation is more than just a flash in the pan, citing statistics the U.S. Department of Wildlife collected regarding goose removal compared to his machine's track record.
"The department of wildlife said that if you want to get rid of your geese, you use a trained dog along with a radio-controlled boat and it takes roughly four to six weeks to get rid of 90 percent of them," Claussen said. "If you use a Goosinator, most people get rid of their geese in four to six days. So it is by far the most effective, and it's humane."
He also said he'd heard the same sort of criticism before from skeptics who preferred using other methods.
"The pest control industry doesn't like it," Claussen said. "They love their dogs, dogs are everything to them, and I've tried to let them know this exists and they're very slow to come around. Like I tell them, use your dogs in the grass. You can primarily use this as a watercraft, so that you don't have to put your dogs in cold water and use this almost as insurance."
For more information on The Goosinator, visit www.goosinator.com. For more information on Catch-It Wildlife and Pest Control, call (785) 331-6511 in the Topeka/Lawrence area or go to catchitwildlife.com.
Originally published in The Topeka Capital-Journal
Josh Rouse is an outdoor enthusiast from Topeka, Kansas. He is the Outdoors Editor for The Topeka Capital-Journal.