NY's annual geese slaughter sees fewest birds ever

migrating Canadian geese

Edited on June 29, 2012 1:30 EDT

(CBS News) Good news for frequent flyers (and very bad news if you happen to be a goose): New York's annual goose roundup is underway. Since 2009, the government has undertaken these roundups in an attempt to cull the Canadian goose population around the New York City area and reduce the risk of the birds inadvertently affecting air travel. The initiative seems to be a success, with government officials reporting the lowest total of geese killed this summer of any year since the roundups started.

The New York Times reports that since the round-ups began on Monday, goose collectors from the federal Department of Agriculture have disposed of 255 geese in 12 parks, with an eventual goal of 400 birds total.

These numbers are far below those of previous years. CBS station WCBS in New York said that in 2010, nearly 1,700 Canadian geese were slaughtered.

The round-ups began in 2009, after a bird struck U.S. Airways Flight 1549, the plane flown by Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger III. The plane made a miraculous water landing in the Hudson River that January.

The "Miracle on the Hudson" prompted government officials to attempt to remove as many geese as possible from the New York area to reduce the chance of further bird strikes. The roundups have taken place every June and July since, the time of year when geese are molting and unable to fly.

The program has prompted outcries from animal rights activists. A group known as GooseWatch NYC protested outside the office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in May.

"Pilots need to be aware of where the birds are flying in order to avoid them," David Karopkin, a member of GooseWatch, told WCBS. "Killing birds is never going to solve this problem."

Last year, the slaughtered geese were sent to Pennsylvania and eventually made their way to food banks in the area. The New York Times reports that, this year, the goose meat will stay in New York State. Each goose is expected to yield roughly one pound of breast meat.

Numbers are so much lower this year that some geese aren't even being collected. In Brooklyn's Prospect Park, inspectors found so few geese that they decided to leave the population alone. Much of that is due to efforts from The Humane Society of the United States. The organization has spearheaded programs to humanely remove geese from the park by modifying habitats, discouraging park visitors from feeding geese, and using herding dogs to keep birds out of the park.

Patrick Kwan, New York state director for the HSUS, said in a press release: "The Prospect Park program encapsulates a more modern, humane and long-term solution to wildlife management."