Researchers, volunteers tag local birds in wild goose hunt for science

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:01 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 25, 2014
The Missouri Conservation Department and a group of volunteers set out early Tuesday morning to tag Canada geese in Columbia and Ashland. The annual tagging event is part of an effort to track population numbers and migratory patterns of Canada geese.

COLUMBIA — Some volunteers just wanted to round up geese for tagging for a fun story to tell. But for Ryan Torngren, it was about revenge.

"When I was 5, I was bitten by a goose," Torngren said. "So this is sweet revenge for me."

Torngren worked with more than 30 others Tuesday morning to tag Canada geese around Columbia. Along with the Missouri Conservation Department, a group of young adults with AmeriCorps, a national volunteer service program, was there to help. Torngren was one of these volunteers. The cadre from AmeriCorps was put to work by the Conservation Department in various areas that did not require specialized skills.

The workers started at sunrise at Cosmo-Bethel Park and visited other locations around Columbia in pursuit of the geese. They ended tagging geese in Ashland.

"We tag them to check survival rates," said Seth Barrioz of the Missouri Department of Conservation. "We also track their migration habits, but most of these geese will stay in Columbia."

All of the information about the birds is kept in an online database that helps researchers understand the species' population numbers worldwide. Canada geese numbers are declining, said Vic Bogosian of the Conservation Department, so measuring the population is important.

At this time of year, Canada geese are molting their flight feathers, which prevents them from being able to take off in flight as volunteers try to catch them. If the Conservation Department holds these events too early or too late in the season, the birds might easily elude capture.

"Sometimes you'll push them into the nets, and they'll all take off," Barrioz said. "And then you wonder what you went through all that trouble for."

The "herding" process, as the group called it, starts with remote-control boats. Bogosian and Preston Stogsdill of the Conservation Department manned the controls and used the boats to corral the geese toward nets near the edge of the water.

Bogosian said the birds are afraid of the boats and will avoid them at all costs. The workers try to get the geese in the nets as soon as possible so as to not stress them out too much.

This is the only time of year the Conservation Department tags geese, but its work now will help biologists across the country track the species year-round. They planned to continue tagging mid-Missouri geese Wednesday in Jefferson City.

Supervising editor is Brian Kratzer.

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