HUNTINGTON TWP. — There’s a reason why the Pennsylvania Game Commission has a two-week window in the middle of summer to trap and band Canada geese.
They can’t fly.
Canada geese moult for a two-week period every year, usually beginning around the last two weeks of June. During the moult, adult geese shed their outer primary wing feathers and grow new ones. At the same time, juvenile geese are just growing their first set of wing feathers, so the adults and young are both flightless during the two-week moult.
And that’s when the Game Commission sets out across the state to catch and band geese each year. The agency has been banding geese for the last 25 years, attaching a leg band to each goose with an identification number and contact information so bands can be reported. The banding work provides population data and information on harvest rates, giving biologists an idea of how Canada geese are doing along with setting seasons and bag limits to control the population.
Last Wednesday the PGC wrapped up its statewide banding effort at several locations in Luzerne County. The effort focused on resident Canada geese, which are actually a subspecies that don’t migrate, and plenty of birds were found at each location.
“The resident population has been fairly stable, but there are still a lot more than people tend to tolerate,” said Molly Giles, a waterfowl biologist with the PGC’s Northeast Region.
The statewide resident population is estimated to be between 250,000 and 300,000 while the PGC would like to see it at 150,000. More liberal seasons and bag limits implemented over the last several years have helped to slow any increase in resident goose numbers, but meeting that 150,000 goal has proven difficult, according to Ian Gregg, chief of the PGC’s Game Bird Section.
“The banding work has shown that harvest rates have gone up as we liberalized the seasons, but the population is still high,” he said. “At least we have stabilized it, but we may be maxed out as far as what we can do with hunting.”
Last year, for most of the state, resident geese could be hunted from Oct. 26-Nov. 30, Dec. 18-Jan. 15 and Feb. 1-28 with a daily bag limit of five.
This year the PGC set a quota of banding 2,500 and exceeded it by 500. In the northeast almost 400 geese were banded.
Even though the molting birds are flightless, they can still be a challenge to capture. On Wednesday, PGC staff and volunteers used kayaks to chase the geese off the water to shore where they were corralled and contained with fence panels.
Once on shore, two people entered the fenced enclosure and handed the geese out, where they were sexed, fitted with a leg band and released.
At Lake Pinecrest — the second stop of the morning, the crew banded and released 25 geese in just under an hour.
The hardest part was getting the geese off the water.
“Because they can’t fly, the geese like these larger bodies of water where they can see a long ways,” Gregg said.
A flock of nearly 40 birds was captured at Perrins Marsh outside of Dallas, and some of those birds had leg bands indicating they were captured years ago. Giles said banding locations are rotated every three years to allow populations to recruit enough new birds to justify returning to the area.
“The Northeast can be challenging for finding geese, even ducks, because there are so many small wetlands spread all over,” Giles said. “This time of year, while they’re moulting, they tend to stay in smaller family groups which spreads the geese out. Logistically, it can be a challenge.”