GOVERNOR DODGE STATE PARK — Herding Canada geese is an exercise in citizen science, appealing to youngsters, handling wildlife, getting dirty and gathering data.
The primary reason ducks and geese are leg banded by state and federal wildlife agencies is to determine harvest (take) rate and help set seasons and regulations. But there is more to it and more comes of it.
“When we started banding birds we wanted to determine migration patterns,” said Taylor Finger, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources migratory gamebird ecologist. “That goes back to when we started banding but now if we want migration information we can, and do, put a satellite or GPS transmitter on a bird and we’ll know where it is every minute of the day.”
Current banding of Canada geese, for example, can be used to determine if there are more males taken out of the population than females, or more adults taken than juveniles, or the reverse.
The final determination is made when a bird is killed by a hunter or found dead from other causes and leg band information is returned to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which can be done online by the person having the band.
“Within an hour of submitting the data online, the person will get an email detailing part of the life of that animal, such as where and when it was banded,” Finger said.
Travis Anderson, DNR wildlife biologist for Iowa and Lafayette counties, took his crew of DNR employees, retirees and volunteers to Cox Hollow Lake in Governor Dodge State Park recently to complete his quota of banding 100 Canada geese during the 2018 season, which corresponds to a period when the juveniles are too young to fly and the adults are molting and have lost flight feathers. Flightless birds are easier to catch.
“We have about a three-week period,” Anderson said. “We basically herd the birds off the water using canoes and kayaks and close in on the flock using fence panels. Then each goose is caught by hand, aged using feather development, sexed, and a numbered leg band is closed around the bird’s left leg. All the information is placed on a spreadsheet, sent to Taylor Finger, and then on to USFWS.”
Both Finger and Anderson emphasized the importance of having volunteers along with DNR employees from different divisions gain the experience of banding wildlife.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Finger said, “to get staff and volunteers out and interact with the department and handle wildlife. We try to make it as interesting as possible so people get a kick out of learning about what we do.”
For example, at Cox Hollow Lake, four of the banders were from the DNR’s deer and predator study project in Iowa and Dane counties.
Anderson sometimes brings his children, Wes and Josie, ages 6 and 8, along to help. “They’ve been doing this for a couple years and have a blast. They don’t mind getting dirty, too.”
“Our mission is to handle the birds as little as possible and not to make it stressful,” Finger said. “If it is raining or too warm and we see the geese getting stressed, we let them go and catch them another day.”
There are a dozen DNR goose banding groups in Wisconsin, which have a statewide quota of 4,100 birds. Anderson’s crew had a 100-bird quota, while the Green Bay area bands 800 annually and Horicon handles 300.
Some birds are recaptures, having been previously banded. Those do not count toward the quota, but are checked to see if the data, ages and sexes were correctly entered into the data bank previous years.
While Canada geese are captured by herding flightless birds, ducks are captured by rocket netting or live box trapping.
Population estimates and health assessments are conducted on many of Wisconsin’s hunted and protected species, sometimes by hunter surveys, postcards, or counting animals when they congregate at mating sites. Crowing, gobbling and drumming counts are commonly done, followed by roadside counts of brood sizes.
A DNR trail camera program is providing interesting perspectives of infrequent and nocturnal animals, too.
Jerry Davis can be reached at email@example.com.