Back in September, the Methodist conference and retreat center in Haywood County banned feeding ducks and geese to hopefully reduce the out-of-control waterfowl population. Despite the popular pasttime of tossing bread to Junaluska’s droves of ducks, the human food source had led to a population explosion. They had all but taken over the shoreline and often blocked walking paths.
“It got to where you almost had to shoo them out of the way to get through,” said Don Bishop, a Lake Junaluska resident who walks the lake a few times a week.
Bishop said that he supports the new policy because it will help keep the waterfowl wild. The waterfowl came to rely on the yearlong source of food, and rather than migrate, they stuck around. When they had babies, the ducklings and goslings would stay, too.
“I think it is not helpful for the animals. They are supposed to be wild,” Bishop said.
Although Lake employees haven’t done an official count, a visual check of the lake shows a marked decline in the number of geese and ducks. Lake walkers will also note more grassy shorelines and far less feces on the paths.
“It is a difference. It’s a huge difference,” said Buddy Young, director of Public Works for Lake Junaluska Assembly, adding that he has seen two collections of about a dozen Canada geese that still inhabit a small area of the lake.
It isn’t exactly clear what happened to all the waterfowl though. Did they just fly off, or did they die from a lack of food?
“I found it hard to think that they would just leave that way, but I don’t know. They’re just not there,” said Don Hendershot, a well-known WNC naturalist and expert bird watcher who makes birding rounds at Lake Junaluska frequently.
Lake employees posted signs all around the lake informing people of the feeding ban and have noticed that for the most part, people follow the rules.
“It’s doing pretty well. Most of the folks around here seem to be supportive of it,” said Young. “We do have people who come up and feed the ducks right in front of the sign.”
Young said he only hears reports of people feeding the waterfowl “every once in a while.”
In those cases, security guards who patrol the lake and the neighborhoods surrounding it give the offenders a flier explaining the reason for the ban.
The food of choice for many is white bread, which for waterfowl is tantamount to candy. The sugary carbohydrates can lead to obesity and malnutrition in ducks and geese. Plus, as birds migrate into the area, they may choose to stay once they see the bounty of bread available to them, which goes against their migratory nature.
The pamphlet also talks about how an abundance of waterfowl spreads disease, and how, since they had grown accustom to humans, they become aggressive. No one has been hurt, but it can still be dangerous and scary for children, who often stand about eye level with the larger geese. The change in the Lake’s protocol seems to have helped that.
“The geese don’t seem to be as aggressive around people because they don’t expect to be fed,” Bishop said.
About three years ago, Lake Junaluska bought a dog to herd geese and ducks off the grounds surrounding the lake, but that alone did little to contain the population of waterfowl — hence the need for the ban, Young said.