Jewelry, bling, leg iron, hardware — most hunters know bird bands by several names. But few know what effort goes into getting those bands on birds, or the real purpose behind them.
Banding is useful in determining vital rate estimates, ratios and travel patterns for migratory game birds. Policies and regulations are determined by using numbers, and that is what banding can help supply. Banding helps Oklahoma’s hunters because it helps determine what areas to focus on for conservation.
In recent years, the abundant population of Canada geese in Oklahoma has been a concern. But this wasn’t always the case. In the early 1980s, Oklahoma joined other states in a program aimed at conserving temperate-breeding Canada geese, including one subspecies that scientists suspected had gone extinct (Branta canadensis maxima). The number of these large-bodied birds had substantially declined during the early part of the 20th century.
The Wildlife Department began trapping these giant Canada geese from other states in the early 1980s and transplanting them to several sites throughout Oklahoma. These birds eventually imprinted on these sites as “home” and stayed in the local area instead of returning to where they were captured.
All released birds were banded with a uniquely numbered aluminum band. As the restoration program came to an end, a program of capturing and banding members of this resident population of Canada geese began.
For a few weeks each summer, Canada geese molt their primary flight feathers and become flightless. This is when the Wildlife Department focuses its efforts on banding the local birds to better understand their habits and foster better management decisions.
The goose banding program has shown, among other things, that Oklahoma’s resident goose population has grown an average of 30 percent annually from 1980 to 2000. Now that resident goose populations are well-established, Wildlife Department biologists would like to see the growth rate much closer to, or even a little below, zero.
Banding data give researchers an idea of local ratios of young-to-old birds, which helps to indicate how productive the year’s hatch has been. Harvest data allow interpretations about how survival may vary in relation to age. Data also provide a way to estimate the population of resident birds. Analysis of Oklahoma’s banding data provided an estimate of 75,000 geese within the state in 2010.
In 2012, an expanded emphasis on Canada goose banding began in Central Flyway states. Many of these states are struggling with a growing problem: too many Canada geese. After working to restore goose populations, states tended to overprotect the birds after populations had been established. This contributed to the situation seen in many states today, in which the geese have become more of a nuisance, especially in urban areas.
The current Central Flyway banding initiative aims to collect data that will allow states to better understand goose movements and how birds from one state may affect others. This could lead to even more relaxed regulations on harvesting resident Canada geese. Currently, Oklahoma has a special nine-day resident Canada goose season in September, allowing hunters to harvest eight birds daily.
In 2012, nearly 1,800 geese were banded in Oklahoma. During the year, 91 reports of harvested banded birds were received. Most band recoveries occur within 100 miles of the location where the goose was banded, but there are the occasional long-distance flyers. One goose banded in Oklahoma was harvested in North Dakota last year. And during the past decade, Oklahoma-banded geese have been reported harvested in locations as far as California to the west, and as far as Massachusetts to the east. Bands recovered in Oklahoma during the 2012–13 season came from six states and three provinces of Canada.
A goose banding session is quite literally a wild goose chase. Department employees begin by scouting locations where a group of geese might be resting, preferably on dry land. If a flock is in the water, boats and kayaks are deployed to push the geese onto the shore. People on foot begin herding the waddling flock toward a flexible pen, which is closed around the geese from each end to capture them. The geese are examined one at a time to determine the sex and whether the bird might be a hatchling from this year. Then a metal band from the Bird Banding Laboratory, stamped with a unique identifying number, is clamped around one of the goose’s legs. After all of this information is recorded, the goose is released.
Anyone who harvests a banded goose is asked to report the band number, along with how, when and where the bird or band was found, by going online to reportband.gov.
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.