Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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“How do you count birds that fly away?” - With Many Hands
Pacific Region, April 4, 2013
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Details on the Multi-Agency Cackling Canada Goose Survey


Ever get one of those questions from a 6th grader that makes 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 office 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.
Service employees traveled out to Sauvie Island, Oregon as part of a coordinated effort to safely capture, identify and re-sight Cackling Geese. Partnering with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, The Pacific Flyway Council and National Wildlife Refuges, an intensive Cackler Goose survey is now being conducted all over the Willamette Valley. Recently – this team of wildlife biologists banded, collared and released around 236 Cackling geese, a handful of mallards, a few pintails and 1 confused wood duck.

Last year, the Service in partnership with the Pacific Flyway Council and other conservation partners, initiated a 3-year cooperative ‘Mark-Resight Study’ for cackling Canada geese. This effort involves marking cacklers and re-sighting them in wintering areas in California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. This information will provide important verification of the population estimates currently in use.

This survey provides a population status of these geese 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. Migratory Bird biologists are essential for covering the primary wintering areas during each of these 2-day intensive survey periods.

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.

Hayden Sanders assisting his dad with Cackler Goose banding
Contact Info: Jane Chorazy, 503-231-2251, Jane_Chorazy@fws.gov
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