Canada geese feeding on grass

It has become an unwanted annual tradition that Dr. Kathy Corley and her staff at Red Cedar Elementary School are looking to end immediately.

For the sixth straight year, a flock of Canada geese have invaded the school property. And they are far from tidy and inconspicuous visitors. This is a group of foul fowl.

“We’d be happy to be their Airbnb hosts if it wasn’t for the poop,” Principal Corley said of the feathered guests.

In all, about 35 of the geese have showed up right before the start of the school year like clockwork and typically stay through the end of September into early October.

“It seems like the word is spreading on the party here, because there are more of them than last year and they’re overall a bit more poopy than last year,” Corley said.

Why did they show up? According to a South Carolina Department of Natural Resources report on nuisance wildlife, the geese usually like habitats with standing water and low, sloping banks – a landscape the Red Cedar property does not provide.

They forage grass, which is plentiful both in the front and back of the property. The poop droppings were less noticeable before the school installed a new turf field and track in the recess area.

“They have kept me and our custodians busy so far picking that stuff up,” Corley admits. “Thankfully, if we don’t step in it, it’s more solid and stringy and easy to pick up.”

Before you say, “Ewwww,” cleaning up the feces is for more than just appearances. The excrement has some nasty parasites that, left to fester, can pollute the air.

Could this be a mating spot fixture? Canada geese typically return to the same spot to mate and nest each year, and while the 30-day gestation period for goslings matches up with the Red Cedar invasion duration, the poultry’s mating season is typically late March to early May.

So, is this just a mid-year respite for the geese? Wildlife experts we contacted were just as baffled by the timing as Corley and her staff.

While the “why” behind their arrival is a mystery, the “What now?” around dealing with this fecal matter is even trickier to answer.

The geese are protected under state and federal laws, so capture, handling or … well, more violent action, is prohibited.

Corley attempted to distract the geese into relocating one day after school, driving around the parking lot in her tiny SmartCar nicknamed “The Fox Box,” but the car’s horn sounded more like a happy clown horn than an angry deterrent.

“Another teacher got in her Jeep Wrangler and that scared them away for about 10 minutes before they came right back,” Corley said. “And they honk right back at us, like they think we’re playing with them.”

To be clear, the goose issue is very low on the list of priorities that the staff is dealing with, especially as COVID protocols continue to be a daily concern. Corley said she and Red Cedar behavior management specialist Edwin Rodriguez have been the two folks most determined to engage in non-violent protests against the geese.

The DNR report said that visual devices can be somewhat effective as a deterrent. One example that has had some success is wooden silhouettes of predators such as wolves or foxes.

Did we say foxes? The school mascot is the red fox. Could the silhouettes be a solution that is on brand? Corley is on board and ready to wrangle up some volunteer woodworkers.

The bad news: The most effective impediments have largely been used on the geese hanging out near on in water.

If this limited-series geese invasion is a permanent fixture, could there be an upside for the school?

After all, Red Cedar staff has consistently shown a flair for creating fun yet educational events, such as their successful Guinness World Record-breaking cereal box domino spectacular in spring 2021 that created a 6,000-box, 40,000-meal donation to Bluffton Self Help.

Corley and staff have discussed turning the nuisance into a teaching moment right out of a “Shark Week” special.

“If they’re not going away, let’s get DNR or some wildlife experts in here to put microchip tags on their wings so we can track where they go after they leave here, and track them with the kids in our science classes,” Corley said.

Corley said this is a unique challenge in her storied education career but that new adventures are part of her job description.

“Problem solving and new hurdles are a daily part of the job, part of what makes being a principal so fun and exciting if you’re up for the challenges, and I love a challenge,” Corley said. “The bulk of my limited interaction with Canadians, they have all been good, nice people. I’m sure these geese are just as nice, they just need a better bathroom.”

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton.