RICHMOND, B.C. -- An eye-catching spectacle in Richmond has grown even bigger, and the larger footprint is coming with some noticeable impacts.

The city’s annual visit from 10s of thousands of migrating snow geese is almost over for the season, and the latest estimate shows the birds’ numbers have been increasing. 

Richmond Football Club executive director Marius Roevde said flocks of visiting snow geese have left their droppings all over the grass field at Hugh Boyd Park, calling it “impossible to avoid.”

“When it’s fresh poop, it’s horrible for the little kids,” he said. “It sticks to their football boots ... it sticks to the ball, and the little ones are close to the ground so you don’t want them to get this in their mouth or in their face. It’s just disgusting to get it on all their clothes as well.”

Roevde said the club has heard from parents and has also been in touch with the city.

“It looks like it’s just getting out of hand,” he said, adding that the birds don’t bother with the nearby artificial turf fields.

“It’s a problem, but I’m not sure what to do.”

Richmond’s communications director Clay Adams said it’s been one of the worst years so far for damage to local sports fields, as the geese tear up grass and roots while they eat.

“That’s becoming a bit of a concern as to how we manage this ever-increasing number,” he said.

The geese come from Siberia to winter on B.C.’s South Coast, as well as in Washington State and California. Adams said the estimated count this year is 180,000, which is more than double the estimate of 86,500 from the 2017-18 season.

He added that the usual deterrents, including dogs, don’t appear to be working anymore.

“We were able to use visual deterrents ... things like little flags and streamers on fields and parks that we knew that they would frequent,” said Adams. “It’s like the geese are becoming used to them. They’re less afraid of them now.”

Adams said they’re turning to “turf management”: keeping some fields growing longer, because the geese prefer short grass. The flocks have also been visiting city green spaces at night, rather than during the day, as they have in the past.

However, Adams said complaints about the animals have actually gone down.

“We think that’s because ... of COVID. People haven’t been around as much, but also people aren’t seeing them at night,” Adams said. “They’re likely hearing them, but they’re certainly not seeing them.”

As for what’s left behind by the flocks on the fields, Adams said it’s something that’s really hard to tackle.

“There is no real effective means of removing it,” he said. “We have looked at equipment in the past that can actually do things like vacuum up geese poop, but it’s not effective, particularly not on larger fields.”

He said that’s why the focus is on trying to keep the geese away from the fields in the first place.

In the past, the idea of a cull has been raised, but managing the snow goose population falls under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act, and is also overseen by the Canadian Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. Russia also has a stake, as the breeding ground for the geese, Wrangel Island, is a nature preserve.

“It is not a decision the city can make independently,” Adams said.

He noted there is also an agreement with the City of Delta where land has been set aside and grown as a feed source specifically for the geese, to divert them from other locations.

“That’s been very successful in the past,” Adams said. “But as their numbers increase, there’s more of them and they’re looking for areas beyond those that are already crowded with their fellow travellers.”

Adams added a discussion about other potential measures to counter the growing snow goose population hasn’t happened yet at the city level.

“If that conversation needs to take place, it’s going to be a long conversation,” he said. “I think what we’re all trying to do is to find ways that we can reduce their impact without reducing, really, their spectacle and the beauty that they bring.”

The snow geese are in Richmond from October to April, and are expected to depart in the coming weeks.