The Life of a Goose

The five geese my buddies and I decoyed on the last Saturday of the VA season included a very special bird. Look closely at the one in the middle:

Feb. geese

tarsal banded goose


The goose not only sports the usual metal federal band, but also an orange tarsal band with the inscription "4YZ" (no banding entity is noted). We reported the federal band number online and received some news that made this bird geek's head spin: The goose was banded in Ontario in 2003 and was born at least as early as 2002!

What the heck was an 8-plus-year-old goose banded in Ontario doing in a resident flock near Washington, D.C.? I figured the key to unlocking the mystery would be determining the origin of the tarsal band.

Such bands are used as auxiliary markers, occasionally in the research of urban nuisance geese. My initial theory was that the goose was federally banded in Ontario and tarsal-banded after becoming a D.C.-area nuisance.

However, when I contacted the real experts--researchers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS) Migratory Bird Program--my humble theory was torn to shreds. The insights they shared via email are absolutely fascinating.

Ron Kokel pointed out some misconceptions I had regarding urban-goose relocation studies and the behavior of resident geese:

No one is doing much nuisance goose relocation work now and haven't really been for quite a while, especially here in the East and Midwest. Most places already have enough geese, very few places are even accepting relocated geese, and if personnel are going to go through all the work to round nuisance geese up, most times they just process them rather than try to relocate them.

Also, I don't really know of any instances where a northern-nesting goose (i.e., Atlantic or Southern James Bay Population), decided to become a temperate-nesting (resident) goose. It's important to remember that all geese, even so-called "residents," migrate. From summer molt migrations to the north (lots of birds from PA, NY, MD, and VA end up in Ontario and Quebec in the summer), to winter time migrations south (depending on food and open water availability), most all of these "resident" populations migrate. Some just go farther than others for any number of reasons. For example, I personally observed what appeared to be a real mix of geese on the Maryland eastern shore this winter, which I attributed to a likely large number of resident geese coming down the east coast as result of all the deep snow and cold temps in PA, NY, CT, NJ, and MA. Many eastern shore hunters (myself being one) couldn't remember a time when there appeared to be more geese over there than there appeared to be this winter. You only have to look back at what happened to Atlantic Population geese in the 90's when an absence of an AP breeding ground survey and increasing numbers of resident geese on the wintering grounds were masking their real decline. The result--closed season for AP geese for a number of years once we figured out what was happening.

Kokel asked his colleague, Tim Moser, for help solving my tarsal-band mystery, and he came through in a big way:

The goose was marked, with other molt migrant geese, in Toronto by the Canadian Wildlife Service. This bird was translocated to an area near Aylmer, Ontario (southwest of Toronto). CWS has used these markers both on locally nesting geese in southern ON, as well as those that they translocate. These markers are not being deployed currently.

Toronto has had an overabundance of Canada geese using the city for several decades. As Ron mentioned, many temperate-nesting Canada geese (referred to as "resident geese" in the US) migrate both during fall when conditions dictate, and during late summer when sub-adult geese or those that fail in their nesting attempts migrate north to molt their flight feathers (nearly always north). Sometimes the molt migration may be several hundred miles to northern Canada, sometimes just to adjacent areas or states/provinces.

The most likely scenario is that your goose was on a molt migration to Toronto as a sub-adult goose or one that had failed in its nest attempt when it was fitted with both an auxiliary band and a federal band.

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