Recently over a three day period, about 50 volunteers including myself assisted the Michigan DNR banding Canada Geese. The practice of banding waterfowl is done annually by the MI DNR and throughout the United States and Canada. The volunteers all met up at the Pointe Mouille State Game Area headquarters bright and early, where wildlife biologists Joseph Robison and game area staff waited for us. After a quick intro about banding waterfowl and its importance, we loaded up into the DNR trucks and drove to the first banding site.
Once the group arrived, Joe had the group hold back while he went ahead to scout out the area and see where the birds were located. Soon Joe returned and the plan was explained to the group and we split off into two groups. The group I was placed in was lead by Joe and the kayakers. We hurried out to where the birds were located and the three kayaks were deployed into the water. The geese ended up having a jump on us and were headed to a thick phragmite stand. They almost reached heavy cover, but Joe rushed over and cut them off; the convoy followed suit. Once Joe was able to cut them off, everyone jumped out of the trucks to keep them from getting back into the water.
The process of banding geese is quite simple, you literally begin by herding them like cattle. The reason we are able to do this is because there is a period of time in June that lasts two to four weeks every year, where the adult birds will lose their primary feathers and start the process of growing new ones, rendering them flightless. Coincidentally, the young of the year have yet to fledge, so they are totally dependent on the adults for safety still.
Once the volunteers had formed a tight circle around the birds, everyone held them there by standing around them until the holding pen could be setup. Then the signal was given and the volunteers began to walk them into the holding pen, closing the door behind the now enclosed geese. Once they were closed into the pen a few people hopped in and pulled the youngest goslings out and into the hands of the volunteers so that they could be handed off to the banders. Then the recapture bands were picked out of the flock so that they can be recorded, and the legs of the birds were checked to make sure the band is in good shape. The rest were then passed out and waited in a line to be fitted with their very own leg band, aka “jewelry”. During the banding process, birds were also sexed and aged and this info was recorded along with the band numbers. This process was repeated multiple times throughout the day until all areas for that day had been covered.
For the three days of effort helping out Joseph Robison and crew, we were able to capture a total of 528 geese with 85 being recaptures. Those numbers are down though compared to the last two years (768 in 2010 and 740 in 2009). Joe feels that the cold and very wet spring we had in SE Michigan appears to have had an impact on the Canada Goose population. Numbers appear to be down about 30% from last years totals, going off of how many birds that they were able to band in the previous years.
In the early days of goose banding, biologist simply wanted to know more about goose migration. But today, band returns are helping to provide information on species’ abundance, distribution, numbers, life span, causes of death and more. The data that is collected from banded geese, either by hunters or by other means is used to monitor population levels, help see the effects of environmental changes and address concerns such as different populations of Canada Geese being harvested at higher rates than others. All the data collected is sent to the Bird Banding Laboratory and each year biologist use that data to assess hunting pressure along with many other things. The banding information is essential for developing the regulations for each goose season for all of us to follow to assure goose populations are properly managed for now and into the future.
Banding is also done on many other birds, not just ducks and geese. Raptors like eagles, hawks and owls, open water birds like gulls and terns and even small song birds are banded throughout the United States and Canada every year. For more information on bird banding, you can visit the Bird Banding Laboratory’s website at www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl.
Waterfowl hunters and anyone that finds a band are asked to report all bands when they harvest them. Reporting of bands is very simple and quick. You report the number via the phone (1-800-327-band) or you can also now report them online at www.reportband.gov .Once you have reported them you will receive a certificate in the mail with all the info that they have on that bird so you can see the age of the bird and location of where it was banded.