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Banding geese: Honking good in Chicago outdoors

Brett Dorak slowly walked circles tighter around Canada geese at Rainbow Beach Park, then aimed “The Flashlight,’’ fired and netted a goose.

Welcome to the Greater Chicago Metropolitan Canada Goose Project, led by the Illinois Natural History Survey.

On Wednesday, Dorak, the graduate research assistant who is the project lead, invited me along banding and collaring with Heath Hagy, assistant research program leader of waterfowl and wetlands ecology, and Doug McClain, assistant waterfowl ecologist.

The aim is to build a data base of what Canada geese are doing around Chicago, when they are doing it, and where they are from.

Brett Dorak holds ``The Flashlight, '' the net launcher allowed for study by the Chicago Park District. Credit: Dale Bowman

Brett Dorak holds “The Flashlight, ” the net launcher allowed for study by the Chicago Park District.
Credit: Dale Bowman

I met them at the Museum of Science and Industry, but no geese were milling about, so it was on to Rainbow Beach.

The Chicago Park District would not allow use of the traditional rocket net, so it was “The Flashlight,’’ a hand-held net launcher (shown right). An 8 x 8 foot net with 4-inch mesh is packed in the head, then fired with a 16-gram CO2 cartridge.

“Brett does these concentric circles.” Hagy said. “And doesn’t look at them.”

Dorak is a master, there was lots of trial and error in learning what works in getting close enough to the geese. He circles within 15 feet of the bird (and needs to make sure the goose was not previously banded), then launches the net.

On his first try at Rainbow Beach, the birds spooked early. But on our way out, he walked in and netted the first goose of the day near the filtration plant.

Then they went into very organized system to document and handle the bird as quickly as possible.

Doug McClain measures the bill of a Canada goose. Credit: Dale Bowman

Doug McClain measures the bill of a Canada goose.
Credit: Dale Bowman

McClain measured the culmen (top of bill) and overall skull length, then plucked five tertial feathers for DNA study.

The DNA work determines whether the bird is from temperate area (local or nearby) or sub-arctic. That matters in how geese may or may not be managed in urban areas.

Dorak and Hagy placed a leg band (19906) and heck collar (26P). The bird was aged (notches on tail feathers), sexed and weighed. On release, the gander lumbered into flight.

The biggest goose they captured so far weighed 14.66 pounds.

We trekked to Calumet Park, where Dorak netted two birds. I helped band the first one (27P, 19907). I hope to hear back some day from it being re-sighted or hunted. On our way back, we stopped to net a goose at Jackson Park.

Four was a good morning. Their best day was netting seven. Overall, they have collared some 900 geese and 30 now have transmitters.

Some things they already learned.

“We never had a transmitter leave the city to feed,’’ Dorak said. “They found everything they need right here in the city.”

Southern Illinois is working on a related resighting project.

Last winter, most birds stuck around, but transmitters ended up as far south as Tennessee and as far north as the north side of Hudson Bay. This winter, only four of the 30 transmitters have left the area.

Our fourth banded bird took flight out toward Lake Michigan on release.

It was time.

Dorak stressed he likes reports on bands, if found or spotted. Waterfowl bands may be reported at reportband.gov.

The first goose banded at Rainbow Beach Park was 26P. Credit: Dale Bowman

The first goose banded at Rainbow Beach Park was 26P.
Credit: Dale Bowman