Honking and flapping, flocks of Canada geese fly each morning over Ken Allen's house in Adobe Meadow. But rather than go south for the winter or head for the Baylands, these geese are headed for greener pastures -- the playing fields at Mitchell Park.
In the verdant, well-irrigated fields, the flocks of geese feast on grass and small insects, leaving behind deposits of excrement.
To Allen, they are a problem.
"If they are in the duck ponds, that's one thing, but they are becoming a nuisance in the park," he said. It's not just a few majestic ganders and their gals, either.
"The largest flight of Canada geese I have seen to date fled Mitchell Park this morning about 7:20 a.m.," he said on Thursday. "Several noisy formations -- in total approaching 100 -- woke the neighbors as they flew low over the library and the neighborhood."
Given the reputation of geese as mean creatures prone to attacking intruders in their territory, Allen said he is concerned for children who might get too close to the emboldened animals, which may feel they have more clout in numbers.
"If they are growing in population by 50 percent per year (as they seem to be), it's going to become a very big problem -- more than a nuisance," he said.
Geese have been a persistent issue throughout Palo Alto, especially at the Palo Alto Golf Course, said Daren Anderson, City of Palo Alto division manager of Open Space, Parks and Golf. The city hires a company with trained herding dogs to help encourage the birds to move off of the course, he said.
And the battle of the geese has caused local cities and government agencies to join forces.
"Palo Alto, Mountain View, Moffett, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all work cooperatively to help control Canada geese population growth by addling the eggs (the eggs are coated with oil to prevent them from developing and hatching). We've been doing this for about eight years," Anderson said.
But that hasn't deterred the growing population.
"The non-migratory population of Canada geese in our region have been an issue for quite some time. I'm not sure if this year is any worse than last year; though it seems that the numbers aren't decreasing at all," he added.
Cody Mccartney, Palo Alto animal-control supervisor, said his department doesn't have any plans to control the geese population. In an email to Allen, Mccartney said it is illegal to trap or relocate any wild animal without the proper permits from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, even for the city.
"Unfortunately there is not a lot we can/are able to do about the growing Canada goose population in Palo Alto. They have found a place with adequate food and mild weather. ... Why go anywhere else?" he wrote.
Cody told the Weekly in an email this week that "Animal Services is pretty much 'hands off' wildlife unless the wildlife is sick, injured, dead, or aggressive. We ask the public to live with wildlife, and do what they can to deter wildlife from becoming a nuisance, and refer them to private pest control services to handle nuisance wildlife."
Canada geese are state and federally protected under laws and regulations within the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and California Fish and Game Code. Craig Stowers, California Department of Fish and Wildlife Region 3 manager of the environmental program, said there is no current permit process to allow for the removal or killing of Canada geese, but there is a process that allows for removing nests and eggs, which would help limit the population.
Eighteen counties can take nests and eggs without the need for a permit; Santa Clara is one of them, he said in an email.
There could also be environmental reasons for the increase in Canada geese. While their numbers might appear to indicate a healthier ecosystem, Stowers said the opposite seems to be true.
"The numbers of geese most likely are an indicator of the poor health and lack of water in their normal wetland habitats; the drought is concentrating populations and they are going where (water) is," he said.
Despite all the hype about avian influenza, the geese don't typically carry diseases that are harmful to people, Stowers said.
Resident Allen, though, worries that goose poop could pose a health hazard, especially since kids tumble and slide in local playing fields.
Allen isn't the only one concerned about the birds. Other residents, posting on a neighborhood email list, have suggested using dogs and even hiring people to chase the geese away.
For anyone who is annoyed by the fowl, it is legal to "haze" or shoo them from private property, so long as the geese are not injured.
People interested in taking a more extreme action -- hunting -- would have to have a license and hunt in designated hunting locations, according to state Fish and Wildlife. Hunting the geese in city parks and on school fields is illegal, though, as is discharging a firearm within city limits, according to the agency.