Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

June 22, 2007

What’s Good for the Goose

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 9:02 am

  For a select group of Canada Geese in S.E. Michigan, migration season starts in late June.  It starts against the stated wishes of the geese in question and without the use of their wings. These hand picked geese are part of an annual goose round-up at Lake Erie Metropark Golf Course. Thursday was round-up day and I was there to assist in the process.

  You might say I kinda directed the thing, but one does not direct the activities of Canadian Geese.  The Geese are in control and we, as humans, pretend to have mastery over them.  Occasionally we need to inflict our pseudo-dominance because these birds are making a bid to take over our part of the planet.

  A century ago, the largest of the Canada Goose clan, the so-called “Giant” Canada Goose, was a rare feature of the landscape.  These honkers were probably never common, but were considered extinct by the mid twentieth century.  Early records from the Pointe Mouillee Shooting Club – now the Pointe Mouillee Game Area – show that Canada Geese were very small part of the annual take.

  There are at least a dozen different forms of Canada Geese on the planet.  All are basically the same in terms of color (gray brown body, black neck and white chin strap) but extremely variable in terms of neck length and weight.  The smallest form, called the Cackling Canada Goose (say that three times fast) weighs in at a duck-like 3 pounds.  The largest, our Giant Canada, can tip the scales at over 23 pounds. 

  For a long time, even seeing a Giant Canada was considered a report worthy event. Beginning in the 1960’s, extensive protective measures were initiated in order to bring the bird back. The good news is that the breeding and release programs have brought the sub-species back with a vengeance. The bad news is that the breeding and release programs have brought the sub-species back with a vengeance.

  It so happens that these hardy beasts find favor with our cultured landscape. As grazers, they find our golf courses, yards and parks resplendent with their chosen fare.  There are now more Giant Canada Geese than there ever were – ever!  Too much of a good thing is not good, so we have spent the last decade trying to figure out how to put a cap on their numbers.  If you put an “r” after the “c” in the word “cap,” you will identify one of the major problems with this bird. Their fertilizing abilities are nothing short of phenomenal.

  Another problem is that there is a significant part of the population that doesn’t feel the need to migrate south any more.  To them, the traditional “V” in the autumn sky is an old school thing.  They stick around all year.

  So, how do you de-goose the landscape? The annual duck & goose hunting season exerts some control over the migratory part of the population.  A special early September and late winter season were started a few years ago in an effort to get at some of the non-migratory ones.  We have used dogs, explosives, barriers, and mystic incantations to control the rest – with mixed success.  Rounding up the birds and transporting them to other areas has proven to be a satisfying, although not terribly effective, means.

  This brings us back to the recent round-up.  Late spring/early summer is the only time this can be done.  The goslings are still flightless and the adults choose this time to molt their flight feathers, so are flightless themselves. I’ve posted a few photos for you to view (here, here, here, and another one here) so I won’t go into detail about the process. 

  In short, the idea is to set up a temporary pen of snow fence next to a pond full of geese.  You drive the geese out of the pond and into the pen using a boat and a whole bunch of screaming people on the shore. Once the geese are in the enclosure, the back section of fence is swung over like a gate and the birds are captive. From there, each bird is transferred into a trailer and transported to various destinations.

  We managed to get 91 birds.  Twelve of them were adult birds and the rest were juveniles ranging in age from yellow downed elementary agers to nearly adult teenagers.  You’ll note in the pictures that the older juveniles have “dirty white” chin patches and clusters of down still clinging to the back of the head.

  For the sake of minimizing the embarrassment factor, I won’t go into how many times it took to maneuver these flocks into the enclosures or how many escaped.  It is a euphemism to simply state that we “transferred” the geese to the trailer.  Grabbing a penned goose can sometimes be a greased pig experience. I can proudly say that I was not bitten nor pooped upon in the process of nabbing at least 45 of the birds.

  A few of the geese did escape the enclosure by rushing the fence and slipping under it. One feisty juvenile did the deed and launched into an all-out sprint.  A running goose can out run a human, so we made no attempt to gather it in.  The last I looked, that bird was still galloping at top speed down the center of the fare way and is still be running for all I know.

  Our birds are now on their way to Kentucky.  I’m sure Blue Grass state will appeal to their grazing needs and provide a chance for them to give some racing tips to the horses.

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