Researchers: Tracking Sioux Falls geese is 'organized chaos'

Wildlife technician Jess Speiser hands a goose to Pat Hybertson while conducting population research June 20 in Sioux Falls, S.D.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Researchers with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department are no strangers to managing the chaos of honking, kicking and flapping when catching a flock of Canada geese.

That commotion was found at several parks in Sioux Falls on June 20, when a team met to perform the annual task of affixing identification bands to the legs of the birds as a way to track their population numbers, hunting survival rates and migration habits.

Each shiny metal band has a unique identification number etched into it, categorized by sex and age. Researchers can follow migration patterns by recording the locations where geese with specific band numbers have been spotted. From there, biologists can make decisions on how to effectively manage local populations.

Waiting for reports of leg-band sightings is the easy part. Before that, nearly a dozen researchers and volunteers have to successfully herd, contain, band and release anywhere from 200 to 400 geese in the Sioux Falls metro area, and roughly 1,500 statewide.

“It’s organized chaos, is the best way to put it,” said Rocco Murano, senior waterfowl biologist. “The geese definitely have a mind of their own. ... Some of the geese have been banded before. They kind of lead the crew, and they know what’s going on. And it can be interesting trying to persuade them to do the same thing again.”

The team has a specific strategy for corralling geese. Mature Canada geese simultaneously molt their primary flight feathers during a three-week period each summer in order to grow new ones. Unable to fly during this time, it is a prime opportunity for catching the birds with ease.

Three volunteers kayaked slowly toward an unsuspecting flock in the water, causing the birds to swim away from them and closer to a chain link cage waiting on the shore. More people started walking alongside the flock from land, deterring any rogue birds from making a run for it up the bank.

“If they’re on land, they can easily outrun you, and they’re gone,” Murano told the Argus Leader. “So we keep them on the water, keep them going the right direction and keep them calm.”

As the kayaks pushed farther, eventually the geese had no choice but to run up the shore and into the cage. Once the fencing was pulled shut to prevent any escapes, birds were handed one-by-one to biologists ready with a stack of leg bands and a set of pliers to fit the metal to the goose’s leg.

Sioux Falls has been dealing with significant problems due to both “resident” geese, geese that live in the city year-round, and visiting populations. The Big Sioux River is one of the few open water sources that doesn’t freeze over, so flocks from neighboring states congregate in the city for the winter. The “resident” Sioux Falls goose population of roughly 1,000 grows to 7,000 or 8,000, according to Sioux Falls Animal Control.

“The banding project is spearheaded by the Game, Fish and Parks Department,” said Julie DeJong, Sioux Falls Animal Control supervisor, “and it’s great to have their assistance and expertise.”

The two organizations have partnered in this effort for years.

“Most of our animal control officers deal with domestic animals,” said DeJong, “so to have wildlife experts at our disposal is a great addition.”

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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