Goose Banding Facts

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goose bands
Goose bands on a hunter’s call lanyard are considered special mementoes of hunts gone by.

For waterfowling enthusiasts, goose bands are among the most cherished mementos of the goose hunt. Less than one out of a thousand geese carry them, so they are rare treasures indeed. They are to the waterfowler what big antlers are to the deer hunter or long beards to the turkey hunter: trophies, badges of distinction. Killing a banded bird is a special thrill, and wearing a lanyard of goose bands around your neck is a symbol of status.

The value of goose bands far exceeds that of mere jewelry, however. Goose hunters who harvest banded birds and report band information play a vital role in the conservation of North America’s waterfowl populations. The information gathered from bands provides interesting insights into the lives of waterfowl and is vital to the management of geese and ducks.

A Brief History of Goose Banding

One of the first people to band geese was Canadian Jack Miner. This self-taught biologist, nicknamed Wild Goose Jack, established the first sanctuary for the conservation of Canada Geese and ducks near Kingsville, Ontario in 1904. In the spring of 1915, he banded his first Canada Goose with a hand-stamped aluminum band to see if he could learn more about its migration and nesting habits. This band, like all subsequent bands from the Miner Sanctuary, was inscribed with a verse of Bible scripture.

goose bands
Here is a goose hunter wearing his goose bands.

To Miner’s delight, in early October of that same year, he received a letter from the Hudson Bay Company dated August 19, 1915, which contained the band. The goose had been killed in unsurveyed territory in the Hudson Bay District. This was, perhaps, the first complete goose-banding record ever.

The next year, many more geese were banded, and later on in the season, word was received from different points along the east side of Hudson Bay and James Bay, and as far as Baffin Land, of banded geese being shot. On one occasion, the Reverend W.G. Walton, an Anglican missionary who had lived for decades with the Indians and Eskimos, traveled hundreds of miles by canoe and train to the Miner Sanctuary. With him, he brought a mink skin of bands, each of which bore a passage of scripture and Jack Miner’s post-office address. He had collected these from Indians and Eskimos all over northern Canada. The natives had brought them to him for interpretation of the scriptures.

Through these goose bands, a great deal of valuable information about Canada Goose nesting and migration was revealed to the world. And so the banding continued. By the time of Miner’s death in 1944, more than 40,000 geese and 50,000 ducks had been banded at his sanctuary, and bands had been returned from 33 states and provinces covering an area of four million square miles. The copious data thus obtained was instrumental in the establishment of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, a landmark law to protect birds migrating between the U.S. and Canada.

The Miner family still bands geese each year. In 2009, they banded 124 Canada geese. In 2010, goose hunters from 20 states, Ontario and Ecuador reported harvesting waterfowl marked with the highly collectible Miner bands.

Many more people were involved with the early development of bird banding in North America, but none was as influential as Frederick Lincoln with the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey. In 1920, he was assigned the daunting task of organizing the nation’s bird-banding program, and that he did. During the next quarter century, Lincoln developed numbering schemes and record-keeping procedures. He recruited banders, established standards, fostered international cooperation and promoted banding as a tool in scientific research and management. In 1935, using data from waterfowl banding, Lincoln also developed the flyways concept, which first defined the boundaries of the Pacific, Central, Mississippi and Atlantic flyways. Through Lincoln’s efforts, the banding of ducks and other birds became a continental program that today remains a cornerstone of avian research, management and conservation.

banding geese
Biologists usually band geese in summer when adult birds have molted their flight feathers and cannot fly. Boats or other means are used to drive the geese into traps for banding.

Modern Banding Efforts

Today, the banding of geese and other migratory birds in North America is managed cooperatively by wildlife agencies in the United States and Canada. In this country, banding is the responsibility of the Bird Banding Laboratory of the U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, in Laurel, Maryland. In Canada, the Bird Banding Office of the Canadian Wildlife Service manages banding. Both countries use the same bands, reporting forms and data formats.

These two offices do not band birds directly, but instead issue banding permits, provide bands, maintain band and recovery data, and coordinate banding projects in North America. The banding itself is a joint effort of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Canadian Wildlife Service, state and provincial wildlife-management agencies, the flyway councils, and nongovernmental waterfowl advocacy and research organizations such as Ducks Unlimited.

Because banding birds requires capturing the birds and handling them before the banding takes place, bird banding in the U.S. is controlled under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and requires a federal banding permit. Some states require a state permit as well. Only official federal bands may be legally placed on birds that are released to the wild within the U.S.

standard goose bands
Standard goose bands used in the U.S. are aluminum rings with unique identifyinig numbers.

Biologists band nearly 150,000 geese in North America each year. Regardless of the species, most are banded in summer when adults molt their flight feathers and cannot fly. The goslings can’t fly yet either, so they, too, are more easily captured this time of year. The birds usually are driven into traps using boats, helicopters, planes and/or people walking. The sex of each bird is then determined, and birds are classified into one of two age groups: gosling or adult.

Each captured goose then is fitted with a uniquely numbered band placed securely on one leg. Goose bands provided by the Bird Banding Laboratory are made of aluminum and inscribed CALL 1-800-327 BAND and WRITE BIRD BAND LAUREL MD 20708 USA followed by a unique 8 or 9 digit number. Older bird bands, which still turn up occasionally, had the legend AVISE BIRD BAND WASH DC.

Double Bands

Goose hunters sometimes bag geese with double bands: a regular aluminum band on one leg and a colored band on the other. A second band can either be a reward band or a special marker used by researchers.

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