Goose roundup at Smithville Lake has ties to conservation history

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Kansas City
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Smithville Lake, Mo. -- Science and conservation history merge at Smithville Lake every June when buckaroos in boats roundup giant Canada geese. The geese are a large-bodied subspecies once considered extinct in the United States until a few small remnant populations were discovered. Thanks to restoration efforts, the geese made major strides toward a remarkable recovery at property now within the lake’s public land boundaries.

A roundup on June 14 at the lake added another layer of scientific data for giant Canada geese in the Little Platte River basin, which feeds Smithville Lake north of Kansas City. Geese molt, or lose their flight feathers, in early summer in a process to replace worn feathers with a fresh set. Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) crews used boats to herd flightless birds across the water into on-shore nets that served as pens.

Many of the geese have been captured in roundups before and wore leg bands with identification numbers. Other geese were given leg bands and their sex and age recorded. Then all geese were released back to the lake.

The leg bands and data base enables biologists to track geese populations, survival rates and movements. Similar roundups are held across Missouri and the United States.

MDC biologists once found a goose with a leg band 28 years old, said Joe DeBold, an MDC urban wildlife biologist who organized the roundup. Most recaptured birds are far younger.

“This gives us information about trends for the Canada goose population in different areas of the state and across the Midwest,” DeBold said.

That information guides how federal and state conservation agencies regulate hunting seasons. It also helps with wildlife management efforts on a local level. When Canada geese populations get large enough to become a nuisance in a neighborhood, including urban areas, steps are sometimes taken such as habitat modification to make an area less attractive to geese, limiting nesting success, or as a very last resort, trapping geese for harvest and donation to food pantries.

But giant Canada geese were once rare. They are a subspecies and not as migratory in winter and spring as smaller-bodied subspecies that nest in Canada and the Arctic.

In 1952, Canada geese were released at the former MDC Trimble Wildlife Area north of Smithville. Biologists at the Trimble Area in the early 1960s put galvanized metal washtubs on posts as nesting sites for the geese. The tub nests greatly reduced egg and gosling losses to predators and the discovery boosted statewide and national giant Canada goose restoration programs.

Nesting tubs were once frequently seen additions to farm ponds. They were especially common in the counties near the old Trimble Area. Property owners took pride in helping to restore a bird second in size only to swans among North American waterfowl. Geese at the Trimble Area were captured and released for restorations elsewhere in Missouri.

The Trimble Wildlife Area became part of the Corps of Engineers property for Smithville Lake, which filled in 1982. But monitoring of trends among the geese continues. Geese numbers at the lake have been greatly reduced in recent years. The geese munch on lawns and golf course greens, and they leave messy droppings. So sport hunting and nesting season controls are used to reduce nuisance problems.

But lake visitors will still see these graceful birds. DeBold estimates the numbers at the lake will be almost 500 geese this summer.

“They are remarkably adaptable,” he said.