It’s not my fault there was a family of geese in the road!

It’s no one’s fault, but you have to stop for the geese : It’s the law

Editor’s note: This article is the opinion of the author and not of The Knightly News or of Central Penn College. The author notes that she is not an expert on geese or driving, or on state or federal law.

Smiling woman with long red hair

By Amanda E. Kelly

Special to The Knightly News


It’s a rainy Thursday night and I am finding my Subaru Forester skidding to a stop on a dark, lonely back road in South Central Pennsylvania. I know these roads well, which is a fact unknown to the driver behind me, who made his distaste for our abrupt stop well known with the use of his horn and loud expletives shouted from the window. I throw on my four-ways and sigh, pointing at the sign to the side of the road, curious if he can see the family in front of our vehicles, waddling along with no care in the world.

Most drivers know to stop for funeral processions. This law was passed in 1991.

Many drivers are unaware of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which says we must stop driving to protect this fluffy family of geese that is blocking the road.

Both instances can cause temporary roadblocks and angry drivers.

Ironically, interrupting either can carry the same consequence: a hefty fine.

So, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t pass these geese.

They’re not just protected along roadways, either; to move, capture, sell, trade, or transport a Canada goose, which shares the list with over 1,000 protected species, a person must obtain appropriate approval from his or her state’s designated department for such matters.

Is this bird worth all that, though? The angry driver behind me doesn’t seem to think so.

A giant Canada goose in the Cottbus Zoo, in Germany. This goose doesn’t have to worry about vehicular traffic. Photo by Fiver, der Hellseher. Photo used under Creative Commons license.

Getting our geese straight

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, there are three types of Canada geese that call our state home: the Southern James Bay and Atlantic populations, which migrate over the Western and Eastern parts of our state; and the Giant Canada goose, who breeds, nests and winters here—which means there is an increased population of geese waddling around the state.

While having our very own species of geese taking up residence in Pennsylvania may annoy many drivers, it’s a high compliment to the commonwealth, considering that this was not always the case.

“Prior to 1935, no (species of) Canada geese nested anywhere in Pennsylvania. Today, they are found in every county,” according to the Game Commission.

This is likely due to our lush landscape, many state parks and hundreds of waterways, including rivers, creeks, streams and ponds for our furry friends to call home.

The problem is, for young families, breeding habitats and living habitats require different things. A mother goose will look for a nesting spot that is free of predators, which will often be away from bodies of water. However, once her goslings are born and growing, her focus switches to teaching those babies to survive, which requires a water source.

So, what does a flock do when finding a new home involves a scary situation, like crossing a street full of angry horns honking at you? It’s not like, behind their windows and loud music, they can hear you honk back.

Walking and waddling in the park

Thinking about the pressure these young geese mothers must feel when transporting their family across busy roads, I’m reminded of a park trip my family made recently. Letort Park, in Carlisle, is popular with the geese population due to the stream that runs through it, and an unnerving situation happened as I was unloading my three children from the car. A family picnicking by the stream caught my attention — the teenage boy, who was seemingly minding his own business, had gotten on his mother’s nerves, and she shouted, “If you make these geese mad and they attack that baby because you’re being foolish, I’m coming after YOU!”

The geese, unaware of her words, just honked back in response. I, however, clutched my infant’s car seat closer, ready to walk faster if they started waddling toward me. Here we were, in their habitat, next to a family with food that they wanted, being taunted by humans they likely perceived as predators.

As we ventured from the parking lot to the playground, I began to ponder.

Who was scared more: me, the mother of the infant, or the mother goose, afraid for her goslings?

With that, it all came into perspective.

All these geese want to do is get to safety.

They’re not standing in the road for fun. In fact, the experience probably terrifies them.

But they need to move to find certain foods, habitats and living conditions, especially when little ones are involved. Sure, the adults in the flock can fly, and I am sure they would much rather prefer to, and let’s face it: No parent wants to travel with their flock full of children, but surely, there must be easier ways for the geese to travel, right?

Our geese like the homes they make.

Years ago, a roommate of mine came home from her job as a maintenance worker at a local retirement home in awe of the fact that they had a family of resident geese on their campus that would not move. Being her first year in the role, she thought the process would be easy: Make some noise, scare them away and the problem is solved. Over the course of the week, she had learned that this family chose the home’s raised garden beds as their breeding spot, they came back yearly and they were not only difficult to move, but moving them required a permit from the state.

On moving day, the staff gathered around with boxes, gently shooing the family away from the curious elderly residents who watched from their balconies. “We’ll see you next year!” one resident shouted.

Yet, less than a week later, they were back.

As it turns out, Pennsylvanian geese aren’t like their northern family members from Canada. Our special species prefers to find a home and stay there. Geese from Canada can travel more than 1,000 miles a day, at speed of up to 60 miles per hour if winds and the weather are favorable, according to several sources of goose and wildlife sources, whereas Pennsylvanian geese prefer to stay put. The family that took up residence at the retirement home had made up their minds: They liked the habitat provided, they liked the food offered and they didn’t want to leave. The retirement home geese had only one problem, which was their human predators who tried to move them, and they were willing to take that risk to return to their home.

Maybe plan ahead — for you and for the geese

This sentiment is echoed by fluffy families across the Midstate, which gives us, as drivers, the advantage of being able to plan ahead.

“We don’t have a geese population like this in Florida,” said Cumberland County resident Emerson Schiess. “And up until I moved to Camp Hill last year, I don’t recall geese being an issue in the roadways. Luckily, I’ve learned which roads to avoid on days I am in a rush.”

The trick to avoiding our honking roadblocks?

“You just have to learn their patterns,” Schiess said.

Geese look for habitats with standing water and sloping banks that have low grass for foraging. They are herbivores who feed in the early morning and in the late afternoon, meaning they can often be found traveling during these times.

Giant Canada geese, also known as the resident species in Pennsylvania, prefer to have a habitat and feeding routine, as seen with the retirement home birds. This comes in handy for drivers who may find themselves stuck watching a family cross the road, and while the temporary roadblock may infuriate some, remember: Just as you have a daily routine, so do the geese. While you may be inconvenienced by their escapades, they’re likely feeling the same about your vehicle being in their way.

The difference is, while both parties may have the same big feelings, one party is protected by law, and the other party can simply wait.

Comment or story idea? Contact KnightlyEditors@CentralPenn.Edu.

Edited by media-club co-adviser and blog editor Professor Michael Lear-Olimpi.