Strike Up the Band(s)

This is the time of year when Pennsylvania Game Commission employees and volunteers go out in search of a common black, white and gray bird to place a small metal band on its leg. Can you guess the name of the bird?

This large bird is often called a “Canadian” goose, but the proper name is actually “Canada” goose.

A more appropriate name for those banded in Pennsylvania might be a Pennsylvania goose since these birds will seldom venture as far north as Canada. They are essentially “home-bodies”. The Canada geese that are banded in Pennsylvania are referred to as resident Canada geese. These are geese that spend most of their entire life in Pennsylvania.

Migrant Canada geese nest in the subarctic regions of Canada and migrate south each fall to their wintering grounds in the mid-Atlantic and southern states and return in the spring to Canada to breed. Migrant geese are banded in late July and August on the breeding grounds in Canada using the same methods used in Pennsylvania.

Why put bands on Canada geese?
Information derived from banding studies allows tracking of waterfowl migration patterns, identifies important breeding, migration and wintering habitats, provides estimates of waterfowl harvest and survival rates and provides population estimates.

Why are Canada geese usually banded in June?
The post-breeding period triggers hormonal changes that initiate molt or replacement of feathers. Feathers wear over time and birds molt to replace worn feathers. Interestingly, most land birds replace flight feathers one at a time and never lose flight. However, waterfowl molt all flight feathers simultaneously and become flightless for approximately one month.

*Please Note: Bird banding is a highly regulated activity. Only those who are properly permitted can legally capture and band birds. Unauthorized capture of wildlife is strictly prohibited and can result in significant penalty under wildlife protection laws and regulations.

How are the geese rallied together for banding?

Game Commission staff and volunteers herd the flightless Canada geese onto land areas adjacent to wetlands and capture with portable corrals. Personnel carefully handle captured birds to minimize capture related injuries. Each bird is classified by age  and gender using a combination of plumage characteristics and cloacal examination. Following age and gender determination, birds are carefully banded and released at capture location.

How many Canada geese are banded per year?
The goal is to band about 1 percent of the state’s breeding population. Last year approximately 3,000 geese were banded.

What other waterfowl does the Game Commission band?
Biologists work in coordination with federal and other state and provincial agencies through the flyway system of management (see for more information). Typically, mallards, wood duck, American black ducks, blue-winged teal and green-winged teal are captured and banded each year in addition to Canada geese.

The Game Commission relies on volunteers to help round up the geese.  Bird banding is a “hands-on” activity that excite many people to volunteer. The PGC must carefully plan this activity so volunteers must be managed according to location. Prospective volunteers are encouraged to contact Game Commisison region offices to seek more information on this opportunity. Region office contact information can be found here:

How can hunters help waterfowl management?

Hunters are an important part of the waterfowl-banding program. The biologists depend on hunters to report band numbers from banded ducks and geese they harvest. Call 1-800-327-BAND or go online to to report band recoveries.

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