Ever get one of those questions that make you put your hand to your head and say “Hmmmm.” Good Question: How does one survey a group of birds that Migrate? Well, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Migratory Bird branch can tell you – working together! It’s what we call “Multi-Agency Coordination” and this spring’s efforts are focusing on the Pacific Flyway’s Cackling Canada Goose Survey.
Mark Nebeker, Manager of the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, coordinates this effort and pulls together all the volunteers for a successful bird count
Coinciding with “Bring your child to work Day”, this survey project enabled FWS staff to share their legacy of protecting fish and wildlife and habitat with their families. Hayden Sanders, age 8, got first-hand experience working beside his dad, safely capturing, identify and re-sighting Cackling Geese.
This coordinated effort is being undertaken on Sauvie Island, Oregon and other areas all over the Willamette Valley. Our partners at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, The Pacific Flyway Council and National Wildlife Refuges share in the success of this intensive Cackler Goose survey – revealing that staff and volunteers have thus far captured, banded, collared and released more than 560 Cackling geese. And those were the ones that they wanted to capture, let’s not forget the birds they didn’t - a handful of mallards, a dozen sandhill cranes, a few pintails and 1 confused wood duck
Up at dawn, migratory bird specialists, hunters, and volunteers prepare the selected fields with bait and the rocket nets that will be used to safely capture the geese. Three fields were chosen on this particular morning and the observers waited quietly for the flocks to alight in the areas closest to the nets. Anticipation builds as the numbers grow and I had to steiffel a gasp or two as the geese land within the project area, only arriving a dozen at a time. Fingers are poised on the triggers of the rockets that will propel the nets into the air, ensnaring the geese until we can release them.
Patience is essential, for sometimes one might have to wait for hours. Silence must be observed at all times (torture for this writer), no shuffling around or unnecessary movement that may startle the birds. Volunteers pull their jackets close around them and sit quietly in the dusty barn, peering through the slats and windows, just waiting for the grounded birds to reach a significant number. Disappointment can come just as quickly, as you watch the resident bald eagle, also in search of a good breakfast, swoop down on the field and send the geese back into the air. Back to the drawing board….to sit and wait and hope that the flock of geese will return.
This project was initiated last year in partnership with the Pacific Flyway Council and other conservation partners - a 3-year cooperative ‘Mark-Resight Study’ for cackling Canada geese which involves marking cacklers and re-sighting them in wintering areas in California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. This information will verify population estimates currently in use and provide essential data that will have a big impact on the types of management actions the Service will implement and how we will best manage the agricultural depredation impacts of geese in Oregon and Washington
This planned effort is coordinated range-wide and involves intensive surveys during fall and spring. Each survey consists of a minimum of two survey days in one week, followed by two survey days the next week. The Pacific Flyway is very large, encompassing thousands of miles
“Trying to execute a survey of this magnitude without our partners would be like trying to survey fish in the lake with only one boat” said Todd Sanders, Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Specialist. “Multi-agency coordination is essential to accurately collect data in all the areas that these geese inhabit.”
Results of past surveys identified Cackler populations at a low of about 25,000 birds in the mid 1980s. The decline is believed to be largely due to sport harvest in California and subsistence harvest on the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta in Alaska. To recover this species hunting restrictions were put into effect by State and Federal Agencies. Once in place, this successful management practice allowed the geese population to increase; numbers began to rebuild and the cackler hunting season was reopened in 1994. Continued monitoring of Pacific Flyway geese have indicated that last year’s population exceeded 240,000 birds.
There are seven different sub-species of Canada Geese that reside in the Willamette Valley. It is important to collect accurate data to identify the specific bird species and accurately propose management plans for that species.
Service personnel are tasked with surveying National Wildlife Refuges and surrounding areas. Staff from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office will survey state wildlife areas and other non-refuge lands and volunteers from partnering agencies and migratory bird offices, cover other areas and fill in as needed.
Citizen Scientists are also asked to participate and report additional resightings of geese populations outside of the scheduled survey periods. This information is of great value to the study by providing information on neckband numbers with location, date, and any pertinent information observers may provide.
Canada geese found in the Willamette Valley and Lower Columbia River areas feed on agricultural crops, specifically grass seed, causing extensive damage. The Fish and Wildlife Service is striving to achieve a balance between managing geese populations without negatively impacting agricultural interests. With partners such as the Pacific Flyway Council, State Wildlife Offices, Alaska Natives, and other conservation groups, we strive to protect this species by developing harvest guidelines that will continue to increase the cackling goose population.