In January 2009, a US Airways jet leaving LaGuardia Airport struck a flock of migratory Canada Geese and was then forced to land in the Hudson River. Fortunately, only geese died that day. Bird collisions with aircraft, or bird strikes, are frequent enough that aviation authorities are vigilant about the potential for bird strikes at the nation’s airports.
Until recently, a flock of several hundred geese and ducks inhabited the shores of East Lake Park. The flock included Canada Geese and a variety of domestic breeds. Each day, area residents enjoyed feeding these birds – they’d been a local spectacle for many years. The birds were so used to being fed that they’d beg for handouts from any park visitor who ventured near.
In June 2011, at the request of the Birmingham Airport Authority, agents with the U.S. Department of Agriculture rounded up and euthanized 113 Canada Geese and 134 domestic geese and ducks. Similar initiatives were undertaken across the U.S. in the aftermath of the US Airways incident. A Birmingham Airport Authority spokesperson explained that the Canada Geese were the main threat to aircraft, due to their ability to fly into the flight path of planes. The domestic breeds were euthanized because – the spokesperson claimed – they attract Canada Geese to the park. All the birds were taken to a food processor, who prepared them for the United Way Community Food Bank.
Area residents and park regulars were surprised, as there had been no prior public notification of the action. Some were outraged or saddened. They had enjoyed watching and feeding the geese. Some felt this action was an overly harsh treatment of wildlife. Airport authorities claimed they had tried non-lethal means of encouraging the Canada Geese to leave, but that these approaches were not successful.
Other residents were relieved. The large flock left a lot of fecal material along the lakeshore, on the trail, and even in the parking lot. Some didn’t like how the domestic geese would gather around park visitors. Geese can be very bold, even aggressive, when food is being handed out.
Perhaps the Airport Authority was being overly cautious. Perhaps they prevented a plane crash. Regardless, large bodies of water will always attract ducks and geese. A few Canada Geese and domestic ducks still live at the park, nesting on the island and along the margins of the lake.
-R. Scot Duncan