POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — You’ve probably heard the phrase “herding cats” used to describe an effort to lead a chaotic event. West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Kim Shaw could appropriately use the term “herding geese” in the same way. Shaw and his team from the DNR’s District 5 recently completed their bi-annual goose banding project.
“It’s a long term study. We’re banding these to show movement of the geese,” said Shaw. “We get some other information about longevity to let us know how long these guys live.”
Each year, working in cooperation with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the DNR puts bands on Canada geese every other year. This year the geese were banded in the odd numbered districts West Virginia. They band a minimum of 300 which they managed to live trap into pens until the metal band can be attached to the foot.
“Some years we’ve been lucky and get them all in one location, those are the good years,” said Shaw. “This year we had to go to six locations from the Mountaineer Power Plant to the YMCA in Huntington.”
The bands are used to track a birds movement. Shaw admits most of the geese being banded here are resident birds in West Virginia. The work is done while geese are molting and cannot fly. In some locations, if the birds are creating a nuisance they’ll relocate the birds before releasing them. However, Shaw said it’s not uncommon for them to fly back to the same spot once the wing feathers develop.
“We’re on the Ohio river and there’s water available, so the places we went like the sediment ponds at Mountaineer Power Station, the pond at Krodel Lake,” said Shaw. “All these had water and a lot of mowed grass. Just perfect conditions for geese.”
The bands are highly prized by hunters who can keep the band. They’re often seen decorating the lanyard of a hunters calls as keepsakes. Shaw said the information gleaned is valuable and effective.
“A study several years ago, we were able to prove about 96 percent of our birds here are resident birds,” Shaw said. “That was at a time a lot of states were reducing their goose seasons. Here in West Virginia we got to keep our early goose season and even add another week of hunting and it was a direct result of the study.”
While the state’s odd numbered districts are banding Canada geese, the even numbered districts this year are banding mourning doves. Unlike the geese, the doves are known to travel much further and often proved more challenging to catch.
“We’re involved in the largest dove banding projects we’ve ever been in. There’s 27 states and three Canadian provinces involved,” said Shaw. “We try to band 100 a year and release them where we caught them. We had a few turned back in that were in Alabama.”
The flightless geese are simply herded into a temporary pen, but biologist have to be more crafty with the doves. They set box traps in various locations, the travel a circuit checking the traps. Much like the goose survey, the hunter participation is the key to the dove research as well.
“The first year we did this to encourage people to report these bands we put a gold colored band on these birds,” Shaw explained. “The hunter who reported those bands received a check for $100.”
The major bounty is no longer offered, but hunters still receive a nice certificate and some information about how far their bird traveled along with the assurance they’ve done their part to aid in wildlife conservation.