Wild Goose Chases

I’m told most people don’t want to get up at 4:00 in the morning to go on a literal wild goose chase.  Huh.  Who knew?  Naturally, I wasn’t informed of this until I had done just that.  You see, yesterday’s work itinerary focused on banding the Canadian geese that nest in southeast Nebraska at this time of year.  But friends, let me tell you something: wild geese don’t like to be herded.  Or picked up, or examined to see if it’s a boy goose or a girl goose.  They don’t mind the actual banding because, you know what?  At that point they’re fast asleep.  That’s right, a goose’s Achilles Heel is found in the simple fact that if their head is placed under their wing, they’re out like a light.  Getting them to that position is another story, but certainly not impossible.  Just ask the 200 or so geese we handled yesterday.

So how exactly does one band a goose?  First, they must be herded from wherever they were previously located into a fabric mesh pen.  As long as the geese don’t remember they can fly, this is no problem.  Goose banding happens in my area in late June to early July because the goslings are too little to know they can fly and the adult geese are growing new flight feathers for their long trip south.  They’re virtually grounded at this point unless they feel extremely threatened, making the herding a fairly simple task.  Once the geese are safely inside the portable pen, we get to work.  From there on, the job is fairly simple: pick up a goose, (hopefully) get it to fall asleep, determine the age and sex, and put a numbered metal band around one leg.  At that point they’re free to go, but you have to remember to wake the goose up before placing it back outside the pen or it becomes completely helpless.  No problem, right?

It really was a fun experience, and one that I’m looking forward to helping with again next year.  Here are some goose banding tidbits that I learned throughout the day.

  • Goslings are often referred to as ‘little fuzzies’ because they still have their down feathers which make them literally small and fuzzy.  Have you ever heard a group of twenty grown male biologists discuss at length where the little fuzzies ran off to?  Or why there seem to be fewer little fuzzies than in previous years?  Let me tell you, I could hardly take that conversation seriously.
  • Geese are stronger than I anticipated.  They will kick, bite, claw, and beat their wings at you if they really aren’t in the mood to be picked up. It took me a few solid hours to be able to pick one up on my own.  The instructions were to grab their neck and force their head under their wing until they stop moving.  That sounded pretty violent to me.  I was more comfortable letting someone else catch them until I discovered that by grabbing their wing joints in one hand and their neck (gently) in the other, you can get the same result without the apparent violence.  I was assured that the geese felt no pain from either method of retrieval, so no worries my friend!
  • This sort of field work in my area seems to be exclusively run by men.  There was about twenty of us working yesterday, and I was the only girl.  Infer from that what you will.

Fun goose facts!  They mate for life and imprint on their nesting site.  Each spring they fly from Mexico to Canada and each fall the fly from Canada to Mexico, but along the way the stop at the exact same pond with the exact same partner to raise little goslings.  How cute is that?

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