Russ Hefty grabbed the 3-pound orange predator by its foam scruff, checked to make sure there was juice and that its paws were waxed, then sent it wide-eyed and whining into the wilds of Vilas Park.
Its job? To stalk, to haze, to harass.
Its quarry? The Canada goose, the bane of every open space in Madison, the deliverer of slip to soccer fields, the hogging, honking despoiler of lake-edge picnic grounds, and the biggest flying poop machine in local airspace.
The stalker is the “GoosInator,” a $2,800 DayGlo orange drone of foam, plywood and plastic sent out to make a lasting impression on the city parks’ goose population.
“The goal is to make life uncomfortable for geese, who see it as a predator,” said Hefty, the city’s conservation supervisor who test-goosed the remote-control predator last fall and then recommended its purchase.
The GoosInator — the orange color, the large painted eye and cartoonish big, pointy, toothy snarl are details guided by university studies, the inventors say — is the newest of several tools the Parks Division is using to “manage” the geese, a perennial problem.
Other efforts include eliminating feeding of the waterfowl by people, buzz-cutting potential habitat, using chemical repellents on the grass, pestering them by other means, oiling their eggs to reduce reproduction, and killing and eating them (also known as “humane removal”).
Hefty seemed pleased with the propeller-powered GoosInator during a run last week at Vilas Park, next to the lagoon where about a dozen Canada geese were nipping at the soggy bluegrass. The robot is pushed by an electric motor, about the size of the motor in a ceiling fan but much noisier (90 decibels). Hefty controls the back-and-forth with a pistol that works as a remote control. So the unit growls and whines and moves easily over short grass on a pair of waxed gliders. It looks like a pontoon plane that just can’t take off. It is not sneaking up on anything, but it sure irritates the geese, which honk and then wing it out of the area. Two geese come back and settle in the lagoon, thinking the predator can’t swim.
It can’t, but it can do the next best thing: It can zoom along on the surface, a skill that finally chases the two offended geese and also seemed to baffle but not ruffle a pair of eavesdropping sandhill cranes.
“It’s important to get out here now while they are hanging around and establishing a grazing habitat and not nesting here,” said Hefty. Interrupting that a couple of times should be enough to keep them away.
The goal, he said, is to “have parks that are usable, where people can put down a blanket without getting goose goo everywhere.”
That was Randy Claussen’s business idea in a nutshell. The Denver man, with his brother, David, and brother-in-law, Mike Ratcliff, sold their first GoosInator in February 2012. Parks and golf courses are so far the big customers.
“We needed a ground craft that imitated a predator, something they would be scared of, something they couldn’t get away from that would work on grass and on water, too,” he said.
There are limitations, said Claussen. Its battery stays charged for 15 minutes and is expensive, and GoosInator is too light to be effective in high winds. Wheels can be added, but it is most effective in short grass and not effective in longer grass.
The orange robot inspired Hefty. He cut a profile of a fox out of plywood, painted it orange and attached it to the running board of a parks truck. Unfortunately, the parks’ open spaces these soggy days are suitable only for geese and GoosInator. Hefty’s truck, with its “Russinator,” would wreck the fields.
The robot, however, is light on its pontoons, doesn’t need to be fed and, unlike a goose, doesn’t leave any trace of its presence.