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Illinois hunting and fishing

Illinois Department of Natural Resources biologists and volunteers corral geese in a backyard on Lake Springfield. Photos by Chris Young.

Volunteers and students help DNR biologists with goose roundup

June 18, 2012 at 09:20 AM

The State Journal-Register

Nino Baptist wanted to find out what it was like to be a wildlife biologist.

On Thursday, the recent Springfield High School graduate got a chance to get his hands dirty helping the Illinois Department of Natural Resources conduct its annual goose roundup.

And in the process of helping corral nearly 500 Canada geese at Lake Sangchris and Lake Springfield, he got his shirt, pants and shoes dirty, too.

During a two- to three-week window in early summer, Canada geese lose their flight feathers and start to grow new ones, rendering them mostly flightless. That’s when biologists can most easily capture and band them.

Illinois hunting and fishing
A Canada goose grows in new flight feathers.

Information gleaned from bands returned by hunters helps officials make management decisions, such as setting hunting season lengths and bag limits.

In Illinois, 3,000 to 4,000 Canada geese are banded each year.

On Thursday, fishing boats were used to push geese up onto the shore while DNR staffers and volunteers surrounded the birds with mesh wire fence panels.

After a while, Baptist found himself inside the pen, handing birds out to people waiting to process them.

Dirty work

Illinois hunting and fishing
Ainsley and Jared Chandler wait in line to have their geese banded.

Even those with years of experience, like Jared and Ainsley Chandler, children of DNR biologist Mike Chandler, get messy.

“He pooped on me, it’s so gross,” said Ainsley, 11, who has been helping with the goose roundup since age 4. “Oh, it soaked through to my tank top.”

During lunch break, Ainsley was able to look at the big picture.

“Not a lot of kids get to do this with their families,” she said. “It’s really cool. I really like holding the geese and letting other people see how we do this.”

Regina Santarelli got to see the operation in her back yard.

Like a lot of people living around Lake Springfield, she has geese loitering in her yard, on her patio and around the boat dock.

“They come up to the patio when no one is home,” she said with a laugh. “This year, they didn’t even migrate because the weather was so nice.”

She has dogs, but they aren’t much help keeping the geese away.

“The dogs and geese have become best friends — BFFs,” she said.

When a gaggle of geese was cornered near someone’s house, Conservation Police Officer Kevin Bettis knocked on the door to alert homeowners.

“This is the first time I’ve seen this. That’s why I was wondering what was going on,” Santarelli said.

Banding data tell biologists that, these days, Illinois hunters are shooting mostly resident birds, not putting much of a dent in the migratory population that comes down from Canada. For that reason, goose quotas have been lifted so hunters can kill more of the local geese that cause problems for homeowners.

“That’s how banding helps us manage the flock,” Chandler said.

Molt migrants

Giant Canada geese, like the ones living around Illinois lakes, were thought to be extinct about 60 years ago. The giant is one of seven subspecies of Canada goose.

A remnant population was discovered in Minnesota. Since then, the birds have made a remarkable recovery.

Chandler said geese take up to three years before they are sexually mature. Young, non-breeding adults often fly to Canada and molt in new feathers there.

They call them “molt migrants.”

Then they sometimes join other flocks, winding up far from Illinois.

That’s something biologists didn’t know until they started getting Illinois bands back from hunters in about 20 other states.

The day’s official total was 410 new birds banded and 66 birds recaptured that had been banded previously.

Illinois hunting and fishing
A young Canada goose is released after banding.

Chandler said it would be difficult to conduct the goose roundup without the help of volunteers from local sportsmen’s groups, like the Sangchris Waterfowlers Association, and students like Baptist.

The roundup will continue around Illinois, including a multi-day effort in Canton that starts today.

Baptist said when he arrived Thursday morning, he had no idea how the birds would be captured.

“The way they catch them is really cool,” he said. “I thought they were going to use a net gun or something, because I didn’t know they couldn’t fly right now.”

***

Illinois hunting and fishing
Canada geese are pushed up on shore by DNR biologists and volunteers in boats.

Keeping them out: one solution

How do Lake Springfield residents keep Canada geese away?

One homeowner has what appears to be a lawn sprinkler connected to a motion sensor, with the intention apparently being that the presence of geese would trigger an unwelcome blast of water.

Members of the goose banding party didn’t get to see the device in action (perhaps a testament to its effectiveness), but there were few goose droppings in that yard.

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