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A Vancouver city worker spends the spring searching out Canada goose nests, replacing eggs with infertile decoys – the city’s attempt to control the population without resorting to a cull

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City of Vancouver wildlife technician Ziggy Jones collects eggs from a Canada goose nest, while another city worker holds the mother goose at bay.Jesse Winter/The Globe and Mail

The momma goose beat her wings and hissed desperately at the woman stealing her eggs. The poppa goose was nowhere to be seen, which for Ziggy Jones was a good thing.

“Oh, they usually attack me,” Ms. Jones said casually, as if she was discussing the weather. “I’ve had several concussions from geese.”

Ms. Jones is a wildlife technician with the City of Vancouver, and its only egg hunter extraordinaire. From late February to June every year, it’s her job to search the city for nonmigratory Canada geese nests, armed with binoculars and a metal clipboard heavily dented from almost 30 years of fending off angry waterfowl.

What she does with the eggs is called “addling” – rendering them infertile through various means such as shaking or freezing, but leaving the shells intact. It’s essentially a form of birth control for an invasive species that numbers somewhere above the official estimate of 3,500 across Vancouver.

“Resident Canada geese are actually an introduced species that was brought here for wildlife viewing and hunting in the seventies,” said Dana McDonald, the environmental stewardship co-ordinator for the city’s parks board. “They’ve really adapted to this environment because they have a constant source of food in grass and other foods that humans offer.”

The damage Canada geese cause across Vancouver includes fouling swimming pools and parks with excrement, eroding shorelines, overeating grass and even digging up water sprinklers, she said.

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Fertile Canada goose eggs collected by Ms. Jones wait to be frozen and stored for the season.Jesse Winter/The Globe and Mail

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A mother goose settles back onto her nest after her fertile eggs were switched with addled ones by Ms. Jones.Jesse Winter/The Globe and Mail

Egg addling is the city’s attempt to control the population without resorting to a cull, which can be controversial. Other B.C. municipalities have faced the same dilemma, and opted to kill some of the birds. In February, the city council in Vernon, B.C., voted to spend $41,000 to euthanize up to 150 geese.

Right now the parks board doesn’t know exactly know how many geese it’s dealing with, or how rapidly they are multiplying. It’s commissioning a year-long study to help answer those questions and develop a longer term strategy for managing the population.

Recommendations could include putting off-leash dog parks in areas with high concentrations of geese to scare them away, changing the type of grass turf in city parks to a less appealing food source, or using fencing or shrubs to make the birds’ access to shorelines more difficult.

If nothing else works, as a last resort the Park Board may consider direct population reductions, but only if approved by elected officials, Ms. McDonald said.

In the meantime, it’s up to Ms. Jones to do what she can to keep the goose numbers in check.

Her preferred addling method is to remove fertile eggs and replace them with infertile ones that were collected and frozen the season before. She has a freezer full of frozen goose eggs in the city works yard, each about the size of a large lemon. Substituting addled ones is key because it helps prevent the geese from simply laying replacements.

But against so many birds, Ms. Jones is fighting a losing battle. In a good year, she’ll remove about 800 eggs from nests. But the city says that in order to make a dent in the population, it needs to triple that number, and has asked the public to help by reporting nests on private property. Even so, for one woman who is close to retirement, the task is monumental.

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Ms. Jones scans the city's downtown for Canada geese nests from the Granville Street Bridge.Jesse Winter/The Globe and Mail

Making her job harder, Canada geese don’t nest where most people might expect them to. Eschewing the marshy shorelines favoured by ducks and ground-nesting birds, they look for ledges that are off the ground and protected from predators. In condo-dense neighbourhoods such as Yaletown or Olympic Village, planter boxes on patios and balconies make ideal locations, but even a concrete rooftop will do in a pinch.

That means in many cases, finding the nests isn’t the problem. Getting to them is.

Because most people have no idea what Ms. Jones does or why, access to private buildings is a challenge. Sometimes co-operative building managers are helpful, but it’s not uncommon for her to spend far more time waiting for someone to open the door than actually collecting eggs.

When Ms. Jones has found a nest, and figured out a way to access it, she teams up with another city worker. That person uses either a broom or some other implement to push the mother goose off, and then watches Ms. Jones’s back for attacking males while she makes the swap.

At a nest site years ago, a particularly large male attacked her and split her forehead open, Ms. Jones said. Blood gushing across her face, she found an employee nearby and got bandaged up, then headed back to the nest.

“They said, ‘What are you doing?’ And I said, ‘Well, my job’s not done yet.’ ”

Now she wears a hard hat whenever she approaches a nest.

As aggressive as the geese can get, the whole ordeal is usually over in minutes. After a brief reorganizing, the mother goose settles back atop the nest as though nothing has happened, and Ms. Jones heads off to find the next in an Easter egg hunt that never seems to end.

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Ms. Jones encounters a Canada goose near Granville Island while searching for nests.Jesse Winter/The Globe and Mail

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