News & Events

Environmental Committee Update - Nuisance Wildlife Discussion

Springtime on the lake is wonderful, isn’t it?  With the increase in temperatures, the lake comes to life after a cold winter’s rest.  The water is clean and clear, the lily pads begin to re-stake their claim in the wetland areas and wildlife return after their migration from warmer climates.  With this renewal also comes the less-desirable waterfowl that wreak havoc on our lawns and personal property and flock to the water in increasing numbers each year. Geese, ducks, and swans, while beautiful and some may say majestic, also become a nuisance for lake residents when they invade in large numbers. 

What we must remember, however, is they aren’t the invaders.  We are.  It’s simple really:  waterfowl live on lakes.  They depend on this habitat for reproduction, food, for their survival.  The trick is to find a balance, to mitigate the numbers to achieve a population that is socially acceptable and tolerated.  There is no option to remove all waterfowl, and frankly, no one wants that. 

I recently spoke to Jessica Merkling, Urban Wildlife Biologist for the Indiana DNR’s northern region.  We spoke about the three most prolific waterfowl that do the most damage to the lake and property. 

Here’s what Jessica had to say about each:

Mute Swans  

Their History  

The white swans that inhabit the lakes of Indiana and Michigan are an invasive swan species.  Originally brought to the United States from Europe to decorate parks and ponds, the Mute species branched off and became a feral breed that multiplied quickly.  In 2005, the US Department of the Interior declared them a non-native, unprotected, invasive species.  The Mute Swan became Public Enemy #1 for small lake communities across the country. (Read more: Mute Swan Quick Facts)

The Issue  

A single male Mute Swan consumes 4 to 8 pounds of plant life every day.  They uproot and consume these vital lake-regenerating plants and destroy our wetlands.  Continuous feeding by a group of swans can destroy an entire wetland ecosystem in a single season. 

And if that isn’t enough, they have the distinct dishonor of being the most aggressive waterfowl. Especially during nesting season, Mute Swans are bullish enough to chase away native birds and other wildlife.  There are numerous reports of Mute Swan attacks on humans and pets, although thankfully nothing has been reported in our area in recent years.  The rule of thumb?  Keep your distance!

What the Biologist Says 

Jessica told me that in a private setting, a homeowner can decide to remove these swans without a permit.  In a public area, like Simonton Lake, a permit is required to remove these swans by means of capturing and relocating or by euthanasia.  There is no cost for the permit which is provided through the State of Indiana.  “I would suggest the removal of all swans, including their babies,” Jessica told me.  Whether the majority of homeowners are on board with this strategy is the question. It would require hiring an outside service who would capture and relocate the swans and destroy their nests. 


Their History

Simonton Lake is home to several species of ducks, all with different federal and/or state protection statuses and rules governing the control of their populations.  The most common duck found swimming in our waters and soaking up the sun on our piers is the Mallard.  The Mallard is the most widespread and abundant duck species in North America.   They are also protected.

The Issue 

Mallard ducks have the ability to cross breed with at least 62 other breeds of duck.  Have you noticed the wide variety of colors and features of some of the ducks on our lake that really can’t be identified as a certain breed?  This “genetic pollution”, while a leading cause of lowering the number of indigenous waterfowl, isn’t our only concern. 

It’s basic science.  Wild ducks eat aquatic plant life and defecate back into the water.  When the duck population increases, more plant life is consumed, and more fecal matter is deposited into the lake.  The true health risks are not completely known, but scientists are certain that the ducks do transmit pathogenic Escherichia coli (E-coli) into the water.  As the water temperatures rise in the warm months, the E-coli bacteria multiples.  As abhorrent as it sounds, this is akin to swimming in a dirty toilet bowl.

What the Biologist Says

 Jessica strongly relates that in her opinion, “The best way to address the issue is to address the root cause.”  DO NOT FEED THE DUCKS!  Ducks gravitate to their food source and while perhaps innocent enough a gesture, feeding the ducks is the worst thing we can do!  Other options are very limited.

“There is no option to remove Mallards other than during legal hunting season,” Jessica added.  “And in a densely populated area like Simonton Lake, this is not a good option.” Permits are available to remove nests, however this may be pointless because new nests will be built.

Canada Geese

Their History

Once on the brink of extinction, Canada geese have staged and epic comeback.  One source cited that it’s currently estimated that there are over 7 million Canada geese in North America. This overpopulation has led to geese swarming to city parks, small lakes and riverways in great numbers. 

The Issue

Let’s call it like it is, shall we? Poop, poop, and more poop! 

I was the lucky recipient of several night-time visits by a gaggle of geese last summer.  I woke in the morning to hundreds of divots in my lawn where the grass had been plucked out by the roots and shovels full of geese droppings not only in my lawn but down my pier.  I could only imagine how much poo gets deposited in the lake after seeing what 10 or 15 geese left me.  The answer is, it’s a whole lot!!  As with the ducks, the E-coli present in the geese feces is, or should be, our concern.

What the Biologist Says 

As it turns out, I am probably the one to blame for the nightly geese raids on my lawn!  I thought it would be nice to have a bird feeder where I could watch wild birds from my lake-view windows.  Jessica confirmed that the geese are attracted to any food source easily obtained and I had unknowingly served them dropped thistle and left-over sunflower seeds under the feeder.

You have probably heard of “oiling” eggs to prevent hatching.  While it sounds simple enough, it’s time-consuming and requires cooperation from all lake residents to be successful.  For this and other reasons, this will probably not be our first line of defense.  Jessica gave me many suggestions on how to deter geese from building their nests around the lake. 

“Canada Geese are federally protected,” Jessica explained.  “Since hunting during legal hunting season isn’t a great option, I recommend making a habitat change to discourage nesting.”  She went on to explain several things that we can all do.  Jessica forwarded me a publication by the Indiana DNR outlining the following recommendations:

Discouraging Geese

In February-March, geese pair up and begin claiming nesting space. Begin harassment immediately to discourage them from nesting in heavily trafficked areas.

  • You may need to harass geese several times a day before they leave a site.
  • Air horns, whistles, flashy tape or flagging, and balloons can be effective ways of disturbing geese.
  • A new technique involves using a green laser.  Wait until the geese land and then use the green laser to harass until they leave.  Jessica told me that the laser must be green as the geese perceive it as a bat.  I found several long-distance green pointer lasers on Amazon for less than $20. 
    • Jessica went on to firmly state that, “The laser is NOT used to try to blind or harm the birds, but to non-lethally harass them so they move elsewhere.”


Bread, crackers, and other foods intended for human consumption are not healthy for geese. Do not hang bird feeders where the geese can eat the dropped seed. Regular feeding of geese can cause:

  • Developmental problems, including death Aggression.
  • Delayed migration
  • Overcrowding
  • Habituation (a loss of fear of humans and their “wild” instincts to feed and protect themselves)


It’s clear that many waterfowl are protected so there’s a delicate line on what we can and cannot do as a community to ensure our lake remains clean and viable.  I hope this article gives you a few ideas.

One actionable discovery that came out of my discussion with Jessica concerns the DNR’s Urban Wildlife Program.  In this program, Wildlife Biologists such as Jessica, work with areas like Simonton Lake to make recommendations on developing habitat that is conducive to beneficial wildlife, reduce conflict with “nuisance” wildlife, improve water quality and increase outdoor recreation opportunities. 

Exploring options with this program is high on the Environmental Committee’s agenda.  If you would like to get involved or just have questions about the committee or anything discussed in this article, please contact Lesa Hershberger, 260-750-5830 or