Annual goose roundup helps DOW with research
Talk about a wild goose chase.
State wildlife officers and volunteers rounded up about 750 Canada geese at Spring Park Reservoir on Missouri Heights on Monday as part of an ongoing study of migration routes and mortality rates.
A small flotilla of people in kayaks worked opposite sides of the reservoir and pinched in toward the birds to herd them into a makeshift coral on the shore. The wary geese didn’t want to cooperate.
“It’s like a cattle drive,” said Todd Sanders, a migratory bird researcher with the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the head of Monday’s project.
Watching the operation gave ample evidence to why the “wild goose chase” cliche exists.
Most of the geese couldn’t take flight: They are molting their flying feathers and are entering a period of about four weeks when they cannot fly, Sanders said. But not all of the birds have molted yet. Some were only partially handicapped and struggled to flap away as they were being herded. It was similar to classic scenarios of bombers struggling to stay airborne in the great battles of World War II.
The birds that are temporarily grounded are particularly skittish right now, Sanders said. They are on a high level of alert because they know they are vulnerable to predators. They pick large bodies of water like Spring Park Reservoir to hang out at during molting time because they can more easily avoid critters that want to eat them.
Many of the geese were determined to break through the gaps in the flotilla that surrounded them Monday. Although the kayakers were blowing whistles, banging on the sides of their boats and slapping the water with their paddles, some of the geese charged through like fullbacks smelling the goal line.
But most of the wildlife officers and many of the volunteers were veterans of the roundup, which is in its fourth year at the reservoir. Sanders travels across western Colorado throughout June undertaking the research at nearly every body of water where geese congregate in large numbers.
He was hoping to snare 1,000 geese at Spring Park but was pleased with the take. The geese were rounded into pens, checked for sex and, if they had never been caught before, banded around a leg before they were released.
Twelve-year-old Giulio Del Piccolo, of Blue Lake, the nephew of a game warden, was helping with the goose roundup for the third year. Also along was his brother, Ivano, 9; his sister, Chiara, 13; and his cousin, Nina, 16. The kids were hauling the birds 30 feet or so from the corral to where Sanders and other officers were banding them and recording information.
The key to avoid getting scratched by the birds is to tuck their heads under a wing, Giulio explained. When that was done, the goose would rest peacefully in the crook of his arm. At one point, while waiting to hand off his goose, Giulio was swaying with his bird in his arms and singing “Rock-a-Bye Baby.”
Chiara said a goose sometimes frees its head from under a wing and starts kicking like mad. A handler has to stay calm and gently tuck the head back in, she said.
That’s not always easy. “Once the head comes out they go nuts,” said Steve Inzalaco, an officer with the wildlife division.
When handing off the geese, the Del Piccolos and others were supposed to place them upside down in the laps of the people doing the banding, with the webbed feet pointing away from the person.
Sanders, Inzalaco and others doing the banding would grab the tails, bend them back 90 degrees, and then press their index fingers around their organs. They would press ” sometimes launching bodily fluids ” and an organ of one type or the other would reveal itself.
Only six or so goslings were rounded up. Sanders said geese prefer smaller ponds for nesting and to raise their brood.
About 300 of the 750 geese, or 40 percent, had been banded in a previous year. Most of them were previously captured at Spring Park Reservoir, Sanders said. They usually return to the same area even if they winter elsewhere.
Each leg band has an identification number and a toll-free number to call. Hunters are urged to call and report when they down one of the banded birds.
Through four years of the project, Sanders has found the birds have a 95 percent average annual survival rate. Nearly all deaths are from hunting.
The study has also produced interesting data about migration patterns.
Sanders said there are migratory geese and resident geese. The migrants visit Colorado en route between Canada and the southern United States or Mexico. The migrants have already returned to Canada.
Most of the geese caught at Spring Park retreat to the Grand Valley around Grand Junction for the winter, although some stay in the Roaring Fork Valley year-round, said Sanders. Regional flocks typically don’t intermingle. Geese that live in southwestern Colorado stay there; geese from the Roaring Fork Valley that winter in the Grand Valley come back to the Roaring Fork area, Sanders said.
“Most of them will stay here but some stray out,” Sanders said. Geese banded as part of the project have been found as far away as Pennsylvania and Canada.
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