Utah DWR Bands Thousands Of Geese To Help Understand Population Size And Life History

Jul 4, 2018

It’s 8:00 a.m. on a warm morning in June at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area. The marsh is alive with noisy waterfowl.

"What a beautiful day, how can you beat an office like this," said Rich Hanson, waterfowl banding coordinator with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "We’ve got snowy egrets flying by, we’ve got American avocets and black-necked stilts and marsh wrens singing in the background. The water’s clear, the sego pond weed looks great, and it’s just a beautiful day to be out goose banding." 

Last month, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources banded 3-5,000 geese throughout the state in order for biologists to track the birds’ movement and growth.

"In June, geese lose their primary flight feathers and become flightless so that’s a great opportunity for biologists to go out and capture geese and put leg bands on them," Hanson said. 

To capture the geese in deeper water, Hanson, the Division of Wildlife Resources, and dozens of volunteers go out on airboats.

Airboats are flat-bottomed boats with a large, noisy propeller on the back allowing the vessel to skim over the water in places like wetlands where a standard engine would be impractical – think the Bayou in Louisiana.

"We use airboats on the wild marshes," Hanson said. "Geese tend to like open bodies of water when they are molting so they can see around them, to see predators and what not. We kind of throw them a curveball and hop on an airboat with all that horsepower . . .  So we put volunteers out on the front of the airboat and they just reach down and gently pluck them out of the water."

By out on the front of the airboat, Hansen means the volunteers lie belly-down with their legs propped up against the windshield and their arms reaching in front of them to pull the squirming, wet, algae-covered goose out of the water. Because the geese cannot fly they dive under the water in an attempt to escape.

Each collected goose receives a unique leg band.

"Each band has a number unique to that bird and biologists will determine the age and the sex. And then that data will be entered in the USGS bird banding database," Hanson said. 

These small metal bands do not cause harm to the goose and provide biologists with vital information about the bird’s life history.

Jason Jones, the manager at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area, explains more about the information these bands can provide.

"You band geese or waterfowls so you can study the movement and survival of birds," he said. "You can generate a survival rate when you get band recovery from either the hunters will call in the band if they shoot the bird or people can find the bird dead and we can generate a bird survival rate or a band recovery rate from that. Ultimately with some more math and statistics you can generate a harvest rate on the birds and it all plays into making decisions on how to manage populations of waterfowl."

If the public finds a bird with a band on it they are encouraged to report the band number. 

"On the band there is the web address www.reportband.gov. So for those people that find a banded bird, just get on that website, go in report a band and you report where you found it and the date you found it and you’ll get a certificate back telling you when it was banded, how old it was banded. It is pretty cool to get that certificate but it is also really good for biologists to get that information."

In addition to the wild bird program, the Division of Wildlife Resources started an urban bird program in 2006.

Hanson tells us more about this program with nuisance geese in urban areas:

"At that time there were thousands of geese in the city and each year since then we have gone in and removed each goose that we can. We take the young and we release them back in the wild with wild birds so it’ll imprint on those wild birds and stay out in the marshes."

Before the program started, city residents complained about the nuisance geese. Today the program is a success.

"Over 12,000 geese in 13 years," Hanson said. "It’s been a huge success. Golf courses are happy, apartments, apartment tenants, condos, condo tenants, and people who attend the parks all seem to be pretty happy with it." 

Using the bands, the division can track the geese that return to the city.

"We’ve had less than a 1 percent of those return to the city so that’s been a huge success," he said.

Both wild and urban goose banding occurs every June. The public can get involved by contacting the Division of Wildlife Resources.