They’re no birdbrains, these Canada geese that inundate Wichita’s lawns and ponds.
Just ask Joel Elsea, who spends more time than most people dealing with them.
The geese prefer well-maintained, nutrient-rich city lawns to stubble fields out in the country, Elsea said. And they seem to know that they’re protected by law from harm in those areas, at least when it comes to humans.
All of which leads to the inevitable problem.
"We’ve had homeowners say they can’t take their kids out in their backyard because it’s covered in goose poop," said Elsea, co-owner of Elsea and Petty HOA Management.
"People spend thousands of dollars on their yards," he added. "When they start being decimated by geese, they want to know what they can do."
Looking for a solution, Elsea went to the dogs – specifically, a pair of border collies trained to chase geese away. Elsea started Goose Busters 18 months ago to service properties maintained by his homeowners association management company.
For about $45 a visit, depending on the number of visits required to fix the problem for good, Goose Busters will disperse flocks of geese that number in the hundreds.
The geese start arriving in the fall and may stay through spring – or longer. A count by local wildlife and parks workers and volunteers last January found more than 71,000 here.
Elsea said the geese problem in parts of Wichita has become so bad that he has received reports of homeowners shooting at the birds.
"Of course, that’s not a good situation for anybody," he said. "It’s a federal violation, for one, and there’s a good chance you might have a BB or pellet skip off the water and hit somebody’s window."
After several years in the homeowners association management business, Elsea heard of a North Carolina dog trainer who prepared dogs for geese dispersal. He traveled there to buy the dogs, a father-and-son team named Thor and Nick, and to receive training himself.
The border collies, with their natural herding instinct, are primed to round up the geese on command. They have been trained to ignore ducks.
The geese seem to mistake the dogs for coyotes, one of their natural predators, although the dogs are trained not to hurt them.
"Initially, I was skeptical," Elsea said. "Until you actually get them out there and work them, it’s hard to believe. The first time you see it, it’s pretty impressive."
Geese often take to ponds to escape – fouling the water in them as well – but the dogs are good swimmers, Elsea said.
"Most border collies don’t swim," he said. "These do."
As Elsea pulled up to a neighborhood in north Wichita on Wednesday with the dogs in the back of his pickup, several dozen geese rested on the far side of a pond. Elsea gave the command – "sh-sh-sh" – and the dogs took off. They didn’t have to go in the water. After about a minute, the geese rose in two groups and flew off.
Elsea wasn’t done yet. First, he had to clean up a mess left by Nick.
Elsea has used the dogs for several clients, including the Maize school district and Fox Ridge, Hickory Creek and Eagle’s Landing homeowners associations. He said many Canada geese have become so established here that they don’t migrate, becoming year-round residents.
It can take several visits from Thor and Nick to persuade the birds to move on. Elsea said, adding that it’s fun to watch the dogs work.
"The dogs are like guided missiles when you let them out,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting when you get 200 geese up at one time.
“A lot of them are pooping when they fly overhead. I don’t know whether it’s on purpose or not."
With their reputation for intelligence, it’s not surprising that Thor and Nick have also become pets for Elsea’s four children.
"Our kids absolutely love them,” he said. “When they’ve been out working in the field, they sure like to come home and get some loving from the family."