Men armed with bats and umbrellas hunted down Canada geese nests and cracked open eggs, stirring up such an outcry in the process the University of Manitoba has abruptly shelved a cull of the migratory birds’ eggs.
"One of the methods used involved cracking the eggs and it may have involved baseball bats," university spokesman John Danakas said Wednesday. "The university does not condone that method, so we’re stopping all culling until we find another way to manage the goose population."
Every year, the Fort Garry campus draws hundreds of the nesting geese and — with their numbers on the rise — university officials got a few complaints.
This year, university administrators sought out advice from wildlife experts, got the required federal permit and hired a contractor to destroy the nests and get rid of the eggs.
The contractors, armed with bats and umbrellas, showed up on campus this week to carry out the cull in mid-afternoon, while classes were in session.
Geese are territorial animals. Pairs make their nests in sheltered alcoves. Students and teachers Wednesday pinpointed several locations some classes have informally adopted.
A class at one of the sites, behind the education building, watched a pair of geese make their nest just outside the classroom windows and monitored the nest almost as closely as the protective prospective parents.
Environmental design student Alexia Ruiz was in the basement of the education building Tuesday afternoon and among the students who banged on the window and yelled at two men armed with bats and umbrellas when they came culling.
"This situation is really troubling for a lot of us students here in our studio. As odd as it sounds, we had a great relationship with this goose couple. They would be right outside our window all day and night, as most of us are generally here working quite late in the evening," she said by email late Wednesday.
"It is kind of scary knowing that just outside our window, what we thought to eventually be an adorable place full of baby geese is now a reminder of what horrible things were done to a goose’s babies."
Her instructor, Maria Mavridis, summed up the class’s reaction: "There were students yelling, ‘What ya doing?’ and banging on the windows. I think the men heard them," she said.
She said she was as outraged as her students. "Campus security has been getting calls all day about ‘the men with baseball bats’ roaming the campus," she said. The decision to stop the cull came after the calls.
Danakas said the university has struggled to manage the growing numbers of nesting geese that show up every spring — some likely overwinter on campus, too — without much success. Population recovery efforts over the last half century have been so effective the Canada goose has become an urban pest.
After a decade of trying to whittle down the population — rejecting hunting, trapping and poisoning — the City of Winnipeg briefly mulled the option of stringing nets across retention ponds to keep the geese out before landing on what at least one pundit described as the most "elegant solution of all."
An intergovernmental group called the Urban Goose Working Group now musters on Kenaston Boulevard every spring and collects all the eggs they can find. Then they destroy them. It’s a labour-intensive task and done under a federal permit because it’s illegal to disturb migratory bird nesting sites.
The university also had a similar federal permit, but the sight of men with baseball bats and umbrellas proved too disturbing for the institution.
The spokesman would only say the contractors the university hired were "a third party" and the decision to crack eggs wasn’t taken lightly and won’t be repeated. The university has yet to decide what to do next.
A day after the men bashed the nests, at least one person on campus said it seems the geese got the message. There were a lot fewer geese reported on campus Wednesday.