Goose banding 101

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In the real estate business it’s all about location, location, location. The same holds true with Kansas’ Canada geese. Resident Canada geese have found everything they need around the golf courses and housing developments of our bigger cities in the eastern half of Kansas. There they have all the water and green forage they could ever need and for the most part protection from predators, including man, and people seem to enjoy them until they become too plentiful. In some states, nuisance geese like that are killed, but here the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) tries to capture and relocate nuisance geese whenever possible.

Last Saturday, “Greenwings,” the youth arm of Ducks Unlimited sponsored a goose banding event at the 5000 acre Jamestown Wildlife Area northwest of Concordia, KS. Officially called a Greenwing Banding Event, it was geared toward youth up to seventeen years old. At 7 AM Saturday morning we rolled into a parking lot already filled with kids of all ages, their parents and a big trailer holding one-hundred fifteen Canada geese in cages awaiting identification bands and their freedom.

There is way more to banding geese than meets the eye, and there were already scores of man hours invested in getting those geese that far. Geese “molt” or lose their flight feathers a couple times a year, the first time being late June or early July. At that time, the flightless geese can be captured. Our “victims” Saturday were removed from golf courses and housing editions around Wichita and Kansas City and taken to a large holding facility the KDWPT maintains at Cedar Bluff Reservoir. Flight feathers were kept trimmed until just prior to Saturday’s event when the quills of those flight feathers were actually pulled completely out, forcing them to grow back faster and allowing the geese to regain flight within a month.

Tom Bidrowski, KDWPT biologist and waterfowl coordinator for all of Kansas took a seat a ways away from the trailer where he would be “sexing” the geese before their release. Bidrowski told the crowd “You tell the boys from the girls just like you would a puppy, you just have to ruffle a few more feathers.” Volunteers began wrangling geese from the cages and handing them to the kids, showing each youth how to properly hold them between the wings and around the legs while KDWPT personnel clamped a metal number tag around the leg of each goose. Then it was over to Bidrowski where he identified the sex and approximate age of each goose as a volunteer documented the information. Bidrowski kept things light, as his way of asking for another goose each time was to call out “OK, someone goose me!” The final stop was a short walk down the adjacent boat ramp where each goose was given its freedom and swam happily away toward the lake as each kid went back for more. The sea of kids, parents and KDWPT personnel banded and released all one-hundred-fifteen Canada geese in just a couple hours.

Sixteen year old Hanna Tracy from Valley Center, whose dad Jeff was one of the “wranglers “ retrieving geese from the cages, has been hunting geese with her dad since she was ten from a blind he made under a big pine tree on the back of their property. He puts out the decoy spread and does the calling, but she shoots her share of geese. Hanna told me “On one hunt last year there were four of us hunting, we shot eleven geese and I got five of them.” Hanna said she feels events like this are important to help conserve our great hunting here in Kansas.

Ten year old Nathan Brown from Concordia was there with his dad Bill. Nathan was a little less enthusiastic than Hanna, but still helped band and release several geese. His first one was an older female that now wears tag number #69 around her leg. Nathan said his favorite part of hunting and fishing is getting to eat the donuts his dad always has in the blind and in the boat.

After all geese were banded and released, and all the feathers had settled so to speak, Bidrowski explained to us how very important banding is to waterfowl management. “Banding is our basic tool for waterfowl management, like a tractor to a farmer or a hammer to a carpenter” he explained. Each leg band has a 1-800 phone number and a website address on it and Bidrowski stressed how important it is for every hunter that harvests a banded bird to call that number or go to the website and answer a few simple questions that also help with waterfowl tracking and management. Each hunter that does that will be mailed a certificate of appreciation stating when and where the goose was banded & released and thanking them for their help.

About 30,000 Canada geese reside in KS year round, and 93% of all geese banded and released in KS are harvested in KS. Canada geese make up 80% of the Kansas goose harvest; about 80,000 are shot here each year. Most Canada geese harvested in Kansas are from three to six years old, but the oldest recorded goose ever shot was thirty-three. Because of its location on the flyway, its myriads of sandpits and other water impoundments and its abundance of forage for migrating geese, Reno County records the largest goose harvest in the state most years.

Ducks Unlimited and our Kansas Dept. of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism do an amazing job of conserving habitat, managing Kansas waterfowl and getting youth involved in the outdoors. Ducks Unlimited Regional Director (and once a KDWPT employee himself) Josh Williams told me “They can teach all the outdoors curriculum in the classroom they want, but if you want an appreciation of the outdoors to stick with these kids, you gotta’ get em’ out and get um’ dirty!”

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