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Banding together for geese

July 3, 2009
By Tim Kobasic

ESCANABA - There is information that indicates the practice of marking birds for either migration studies or use for carrying messages date back as far as 280 BC. Then a swallow was used to send a message from a besieged garrison during the Punic Wars.

The earliest record of bird banding reaches back to 1595 when Henry IV had a metal band attached to one of his Peregrine Falcons. It was later lost in France and found 24 hours later in Malta, approximately 1350 miles away. (The average flight time clocked the bird at 56 miles per hour.)

It is one of the "father's of conservation" who is credited as being the first in North America for marking birds for study. In 1803 John James Audubon, the famous American naturalist and painter, tied silver cords to the legs of a brood of phoebes in Philadelphia. He was able to identify two of them as they returned to nest the following year.

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A group of area residents teamed with Ducks Unlimited and Department of Natural Resources officials to band geese recently.

Touted as the real pioneer of bird banding in the Americas was Jack Miner, who established a waterfowl sanctuary near Kingsville, Ont. It is reported that between 1909 and 1939 he alone banded 20,000 Canada Geese. Many of the carried bands were later returned to him by hunters. His work evolved into the American Bird Banding Association.

The importance and success of bird banding has grown so widespread that the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service today oversee the activities of dedicated banders all over the world.

On a more local level, geese continue to be banded annually through the cooperative efforts of the USFWS and Michigan DNR. The DNR performs the task of capturing and banding. They do so with the help of volunteers from Ducks Unlimited.

The Upper Peninsula is divided into western and eastern halves. The quota set this year for the western unit was a minimum of 150 birds. That process began June 24 and the numbers seemed to come easy, thanks in part to good habitat conditions and mild weather.

This year I had the opportunity to participate not only as a member of the media, but as a volunteer for Ducks Unlimited. Together with fellow DU member Marc LeBeau and my son Tony, we made up the total of extras needed to take on the task.

The job came easy as we were coached and assisted by DNR wildlife professionals Craig Albright, Kurt Hogue, Bill Scullon and Bill Rollo. A recent graduate of Northern Michigan University and seasonal wildlife technician for the DNR, Emily Bouchaert rounded out the pro team.

Rollo had been out the days prior to scout locations where resident populations existed. The "locals" as they are called, are of the larger sized sub-species of Canada goose.

Not yet able to fly, goslings are growing and gathering strength and size in preparation for the fall migration. The adults are also in an evolutionary stage as they molt. It is a process of replacing flight feathers that are either damaged or seasonally adjusted to match the size and age of the bird.

As a result, they too are unable to fly for a period from late June through early July.

On this day we set up at two locations, one on the bay near Kipling and the other along the Whitefish River. The choice of locations was contingent upon the geese being present and then finding a landing where obstructions on either side impeded access to land. Snow fencing was used to create a temporary venturi leading to a circle enclosure.

Team members manned several small water craft to herd the geese. The remainder were set along the shore, concealed from sight until needed to discourage escape through tight cover outside the established corridor. Once inside, the entrance was secured and tightened with two people inside to capture and hand off each bird.

Tony and I worked with Hogue inside the enclosure to hand off individual birds to each handler. It was a simple process as we first selected the goslings by getting a hold around the wings and body.

The mature bird took a little more finesse requiring a loose grip around the neck at the base of the head, and then holding the wings suspended at the back with the free hand.

Rollo explained the handling doesn't cause much stress on the geese. It is the usual hot weather at this time of year that creates a stress issue.

He also explained that the banding process would not have the continued success that has been realized if it were not for the help of the Ducks Unlimited volunteers.

Once caught, each bird was handed off as the wildlife technicians and veteran volunteer LeBeau did a quick physical assessment that included sex identification.

There is a common feather opening on the lower belly side of the goose called the "Cloaca". The sex organ of both male and female is located within an orifice of the cloaca.

The numbered bands are placed onto the leg of each bird and checked to be sure there is ample space along the span of the leg for movement. The bands are also checked to assure they are smooth at the edges and point of overlap.

Each number is logged, including those that are re-captures from previous banding, and then released. There were no birds injured, no problems after release and all immediately headed for open water.

There were 50 new geese tagged with nine recaptures at Kipling. There were 74 new geese tagged and eight recaptures at the Whitefish River location.

With a total of 124 new geese banded, it was one of the better starts to the annual program the DNR has seen. These numbers will be submitted to the central data collection system.

Hunters are permitted to take banded geese by legal methods within the designated hunting season. If anyone obtains a goose that is banded, they can contact the local wildlife agency for reference of where to obtain a migratory history of the bird.

This is yet another example of what is done as one of many wildlife management projects and must continue, even given the difficult economic times.

The team spirited volunteer help of organizations and financial contributions towards habitat like that of Ducks Unlimited assure they continue on into the future.


Tim Kobasic is outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.



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