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When Geese Attack; or, How I Almost Got My Ass Kicked by a Canadian Goose

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While running the trails of Forest Lakes in Charlottesville, Jeffrey Pillow comes face to face with an ill-tempered Canadian goose in a story of man vs. bird.

A Tale of Man vs Goose

Around mile three of my daily run, I turned the corner where some residential homes overlook two lakes adjacent one another. It is fairly common to see Canadian geese where I live in Charlottesville. So common that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was called in and nests were destroyed because of the close proximity to the Charlottesville Albemarle airport. Needless to say if you read the article, it angered many Forest Lakes residents. If you remember Captain Sully, the Hudson River hero from a few years ago, it was Canadian geese that caused the crash of US Airways Flight 1549.

Still, the geese fly back year after year and are constantly seen grazing around the various lakes in the neighborhood. I’ve never had a run-in (pardon the pun) in which a goose becomes aggressive. That is, until last week.

As I rounded the turn, I saw roughly 15-18 geese grazing – some on the lake’s bank and others on the hillside of a resident’s home. A few were standing on the pathway blocking my route. I noticed one goose in particular had his tongue out.

It was very hot that day (91 degrees) and humid, too. I was pouring with sweat. I felt the goose’s pain. I could not wait to get home to down a tall glass of cold apple juice.

I kept running toward the flock of geese, assuming they would all part like the Red Sea the closer I got. None seemed to pay me any mind except for the one goose that had his tongue out like a tired dog. I kept running. He started shuffling closer to me, and then hissed.

Hissed like a snake.

Hissed like some crazed demon from Old Testament scripture.

Naturally a red flag went up. I stopped running. The goose stopped shuffling toward me but continued to eye me. I returned his glare. It went something like this.

As the two of us involved ourselves in a Wild West style standoff – man vs. bird – I was reminded of various news stories I have read over the years involving aggressive swans, even one resulting in an Illinois man drowning to death after being viciously attacked.

I fully understand that swans and geese are two different creatures. Nevertheless, anatomically speaking they are very similar. While swans are larger and have longer necks, the goose advantage is that on land they are much more adept and mobile.

And on land is where my current skirmish was stirring.

My initial thought was to start running again. They’ll move. I’m on two legs walking upright. Aren’t animals scared of upright bipedal hominids? If they are, this goose didn’t get the memo because as I began running toward him and his buddies again, he started shuffling my way.

He let out a drawn out hiss followed by another. Then his wings started to lift, ruffled at his sides. His eyes never left me. It was as if he could look right through me and sense my fear. (As a side note: I wasn’t really that fearful. I was more attentive than anything, like some evolutionary mechanism was sounding off in my body)

One goose, I can handle. Two geese, I still think I’d be okay. But the 15 or so that could form a small army, a few of which now took notice to the current happenings – I wasn’t taking my chances. I was outnumbered and I’m not stupid. I also didn’t want to be on NBC29 news with a headline that read:

Charlottesville Man Pecked to Death by Killer Canadian Geese

Or for my obituary to read:

Jeffrey Pillow leaves behind his wife and two small children. A graduate of the University of Virginia, you would think he would have been smart enough to turn around and run a different trail. Instead, he faced off against Canadian geese and was killed. Yes, you read that correctly. He met his end by a bird.

A winner of the Darwin Award is not a medal I want in my collection or will as I pass on into the afterlife. So I stopped, shimmied my feet in the opposite direction and began running the other way, all the while looking back over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t being hunted followed.

Re-routing added another ½ mile or so to my run, which was okay now that my adrenaline and fight or flight response was in full gear. Sort of ironic that I chose flight and the goose chose fight – him having wings and all.

Since then I have had another run-in with Canadian geese at Forest Lakes in a different location by a different lake. There always seems to be one male on watch as if he’s the lookout or guard. At least I didn’t turn out like this guy.

This time they left enough cushion for me to run around where they grazed and not have to re-route entirely. Since taking this whole running thing seriously, I have had a few other interesting meetings with wildlife in my neighborhood:

  • On three occasions, I have been chased for ¼ mile by catbirds who decided to stop messing with the residential blackbird and instead go after me. Something I’ve noticed: catbirds are real hecklers when it comes to blackbirds. If I was a blackbird, I think I’d have to kick a catbird’s ass being bigger and all. This all coming from someone who just ran from a goose.
  • Two days later, I was pecked in the head and back of my neck by a Baltimore Oriole (who I am assuming has a nest in the area. When I saw it approach me, I thought: Aww, an Oriole. So pretty. What are you doing? Ow! Why are you attacking me? Cal Ripken, Jr. was my favorite baseball player growing up.)
  • I’ve almost stepped on three snakes (two I don’t know the species that slithered out in front of me and one a 4-foot long black snake that I came this close to stepping on. Hey, at least it’s non-poisonous)
  • And though I haven’t seen one while running yet, there was a note in our community newsletter not to approach any bears particularly as they may naturally protect their cubs. Awesome.

Then there are the peaceful creatures such as the cranes and bunny rabbits, turtles, ducks, and deer. They all got the memo to be terrified of upright bipedal hominids. With that said, I am cautious of deer. They are beautiful creatures but they can do some damage if they feel threatened, particularly a buck. My Papa Pillow once had a deer jump into the side of his truck when he had the window down driving. Terrified, the deer broke my grandpa’s collarbone and did a number on his face while trying to get the upper portion of its body out of the side door window.

Lastly, if you do ever find yourself face to face with a pissed off Canadian goose, here’s some sound advice to take. My notes are in red:

How to Stop a Goose Attack

  1. Male geese will sometimes sound a warning to let you know to step off his turf. If you hear that sound, get to stepping. He might hiss too. More on that later. If you’re listening to your iPod and see a flock of geese, take out your earbuds. Would you rather hear Jay-Z’s new album or be the person in your neighborhood who had to be carried off by the rescue squad for getting his ass kicked by a goose?
  2. Don’t be a chicken when facing off against a goose. Geese sense fear and being a chicken might mean the attack itself will be greater, so don’t show your fear. Don’t do it. Do like I did and look like a deer in headlights, completely stunned that you are being threatened by a goose. A goose!
  3. Maintain eye contact. Geese have very good eye sight and they don’t like cowards who look away. If you look away, they think you’re being a chump and might try to destroy you. Geese really are big into eye contact—at least that’s one thing I took away from my experience. The FBI should bring in geese to stare down potential terrorists to see if they are lying. I wonder what George Zimmerman would really admit to if the judge or cross-examining lawyer was a giant goose.
  4. Don’t yell at the male goose, don’t hit the male goose. Don’t curse at him. Don’t spit in his face. Don’t mistake him for a swan or tell him “his goose is cooked.” If you do, the female goose might join the attack and hit you with her pocketbook. Don’t be that guy. Don’t be the guy (or girl) that physically assaults a goose. Just walk away. Just walk away. If you can’t walk away, run! Run as fast as you can.
  5. Okay, so you might be able to make it out alive. Remember, maintain eye contact. Walk slowly backwards if the goose hisses at you or spreads its wings to intimidate you. Do not, I repeat, do not turn your back on a goose or it may go full combat. Watch out for the sneak attack. Another may be hiding in the bushes waiting to ambush you. Note to reader: I’m pretty sure you could follow these exact instructions if you were being mugged, or thought you were going to be mugged, in a dark New York City alley at 3 AM following a trip to the bar after a Knicks’ loss at Madison Square Garden to the 76ers. Also, a house raid in Iraq or Afghanistan.
  6. Is the coast clear? Is there enough distance between you and the goose? Go, go, go! Every man for himself. Now start talking trash. “Oh, you think you’re a bad ass, huh goose? Well then, come over this fence and we’ll see who the real bad ass is.” Oh shit, he’s flying over the fence. Run! Note: Geese don’t like fences, so if one is in your vicinity, get in the backyard. Well, not if there’s a pitbull in the backyard.

How about you? What’s your story?

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Photo: Michael Gil. “Attack of the Goose.” Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Tags: aggressive goose, angry geese, canadian goose hiss, crazy goose, forest lakes charlottesville, funny running stories, geese territorial, killer goose, running stories, running tales, swan attack, what to do if a goose attacks you, when geese attack / Category: Memoir, Nonfiction


  1. Whitney Huffman

    I don’t have a story, but this had me rolling! I mean, sorry about your luck, but please keep the real talk coming!

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