Mill Creek Park in South Portland is ideal habitat for waterfowl, so much so that they produce more than a ton of feces in the 10-acre park each week. Some residents say that creates a public health hazard, prompting city officials to consult with a wildlife expert from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to discuss ways to keep ducks and geese out of the park and avoid taking more drastic steps to reduce their numbers. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The persistent accumulation of duck and goose droppings in Mill Creek Park has city officials reaching out for federal guidance on how to further reduce the waterfowl population in one of southern Maine’s favorite gathering spots.

Some park visitors say they love to see the mallard ducks and Canada geese swimming in Mill Creek Pond and stopping traffic as they waddle throughout the Mill Creek shopping area. But critics see the birds as a public health hazard because they produce more than a ton of feces each week – about 2 pounds daily from each of an estimated 200 birds.

The city already has an ordinance against feeding waterfowl at Mill Creek Park. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Efforts to control the waterfowl so far have brought mixed results. Some park visitors continue to feed the ducks and geese, ignoring prominent signs that explain why it’s bad for the birds and the environment. And when the city set out coyote decoys to deter waterfowl, the birds ignored them but some residents who spotted them reported seeing potentially rabid wildlife in the park.

The city’s conservation manager is scheduled to meet Wednesday with a wildlife expert from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to discuss additional ways to keep ducks and geese out of the park and avoid taking more drastic steps to reduce their numbers.

The problem is most acute on the north side of the pond, where ducks and geese loll in the shade of trees along Hinckley Drive and scrounge for food from people sitting on park benches. Baked by the recent summer heat, a carpet of feces crunches underfoot, erasing thoughts of slipping off sandals or spreading a blanket for a picnic lunch.

Despite the droppings, Darcy Willette of Cape Elizabeth visits the 10-acre park regularly on her way to work, taking a few moments to relax and read in the sun. But she says she changes her shoes before she enters her workplace because she doesn’t want to transmit potential disease from the feces to her employer’s elderly dog.


“I don’t want their dog to get sick,” Willette said. “The poop does seem to be more of a problem this year, and I do think people avoid the park because of it. I love the ducks and geese and I wouldn’t want them to do anything to remove them, but it’s just poop, poop, poop.”

Kristina Ertzner, conservation manager in the city’s parks department, questions whether the problem has gotten worse. She believes more people are spending time outdoors post-pandemic and they’re noticing a problem that actually has diminished in recent years.

The resident duck and goose population has dropped from 400 to 500 birds in 2018 to 100 to 200 today, Ertzner said. She credits the public education campaign against feeding waterfowl – and the fines levied on scofflaws – with curbing a problem that plagues parks and golf courses from Maine to Australia.

Geese and ducks at Mill Creek Park. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“Waterfowl waste isn’t unique to South Portland,” Ertzner said. “We’ve reduced their numbers by more than half just through education and ticketing.”

Ducks naturally eat aquatic plants, grains, grasses, bugs and mollusks. Geese also eat berries, seeds and small fish.

South Portland has an ordinance against feeding them because doing so typically provides poor nutrition, can cause disease and death, delays migration, is unsanitary, causes water pollution, and promotes unnatural behavior and aggression toward humans.


Droppings are removed from Mill Creek Park before special events, which is about twice a month spring through fall, said Karl Coughlin, parks department director. City workers clean before students converge at the landscaped park for high school prom and graduation photos. They also clean before the summer concert series held at the gazebo and the annual Art in the Park exhibit and sale, which is coming up on Aug. 13.

They use a street sweeper with its brushes turned off to vacuum the droppings, then follow up with a Tow and Collect lawn sweeper that Coughlin calls “the crapper trapper.” The latter is a small machine with tines that pick up pellets and flick them into a bin. It takes the better part of a day to sweep the whole park, he said.

Larry Chandler watches a duck walk past the bench he is sitting on at Mill Creek Park. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Still, the city’s efforts are falling short for people like Barbara Everett, who lives near the park. She offered emotional testimony at a recent City Council meeting, saying she no longer walks her dogs in the park because they have gotten sick from exposure to waterfowl feces.

“Mill Creek Park is not usable,” Everett said. “I really wish you would consider culling the herd. If you don’t do something now, it’s only going to multiply and get worse and worse.”

Conservation efforts have allowed some waterfowl populations to flourish, including Canada geese, whose numbers have burgeoned in the United States, increasing 16 times since the 1970s, from 230,000 to 3.9 million, wildlife experts say.

In Rangeley, selectmen recently consulted with a USDA wildlife biologist before they approved a plan to reduce the town’s Canada geese population of about 100 birds using a carbon dioxide-filled chamber.


At South Portland’s meeting with the USDA on Wednesday, they will be discussing solutions other than culling the flock, said Ertzner, the conservation manager. Culling is something South Portland officials hope to avoid.

“They’re not talking about euthanizing, and I don’t want to euthanize,” Ertzner said, acknowledging that such a proposal likely would draw opposition from some residents.

Culling the flock also probably wouldn’t work, said Doug Hitchcox, staff naturalist at Maine Audubon.

Geese and ducks at Mill Creek Park. Some park visitors say they love to see the mallard ducks and Canada geese swimming in Mill Creek Pond. Others see the birds as a public health hazard. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Mill Creek Park is ideal habitat for ducks and geese, and it will always have a certain “carrying capacity” for a few hundred waterfowl, Hitchcox said.

“The park will still be an amazing place covered with food,” he said. “All that grass is food, and it’s such good habitat, next to a marsh on Casco Bay. From a goose’s perspective, it’s one of the best places around.”

Hitchcox said culling the flock would be shortsighted and wouldn’t provide lasting results. It would make more sense to clean the park weekly.

“If we want to enjoy outdoor places, we need to find a way to cohabitate with wildlife,” he said. “Cleaning up droppings is part of that.”

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