collared geese at belle isle

November 13, 2005

in Birds,Field work

Belle Isle Park, Detroit

Dr1New York’s Central Park was not the only magnificent city park designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead.  The largest city-owned park in America, Detroit’s own Belle Isle, was also an Olmstead work.  Located in the Detroit River (click to enlarge maps), it is 2.5 miles long and 985 acres, with lakes, canals, woodlands, and wetlands. There is a conservatory, but the aquarium and zoo have been closed due to Detroit’s dire financial problems.  In fact, many of the facilities, dating back to the city’s acquisition in 1879, are in sad disrepair.  But it is still one of my favorite places in the city; we like to bring visitors there to show them the beautiful and historic side to Detroit that is so often neglected, even by lifelong residents.

BelleaerialThere is always a lot of activity on Belle Isle.  It can be overwhelming gridlock in summer, but much of the year there are mostly scores of walkers, runners, bike riders, skaters, nature lovers, and sightseers.  Yesterday was another abnormally warm November day, and my husband and I headed to Belle Isle to look for waterfowl and perhaps some stray Cave Swallows (Petrochelidon fulva pelodoma). We found nothing unusual, but had 15 species of waterfowl, and recorded the neck collar numbers off of 15 Canada Geese.

Collared Geese

In addition to leg banding, geese are sometimes outfitted with colored plastic neck collars inscribed with alphanumeric codes (and sometimes radio transmitters).  The easy visibility of these collars translates to increased reporting by the public, which helps researchers gather more information on the movement of the geese. Both Canada Geese and the white geese (Snow and Ross’s) are regularly collared.

I faithfully report collared geese. So far, we’ve only seen collared Canada Geese in this area, and the collars are most frequently green with white codes or orange with white codes.  The last couple of years, we’ve seen white collars with black codes.

Green and white collars are from birds collared by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, usually here in Michigan, but occasionally in southwest Ontario.  One of the green-collared geese we saw yesterday was originally collared on Belle Isle in 2002, and we first saw it this past May on the island, with a brood of youngsters. Another was one we saw on Belle Isle last November, which was collared in Ontario in 2002.

Orange collars are Canadian Canada Geese.  So far, every single orange-collared goose I have reported from southeast Michigan (over 30) have been collared on Akimiski Island, in James Bay, Nunavut (formerly part of the Northwest Territories).  A number of them show up around here each fall.  One of the orange-collared birds from yesterday was, once again, seen by us last November on Belle Isle; it was collared on Akimiski in 2002.

White collars are Ohio birds.  I’ve only encountered one before, so we’ll have to see if any pattern emerges when we hear back about these birds. The most interesting collared goose I ever found was one with a white bib collar (cone-shaped).  It had been banded five years previously in Maryland.  Who knows what it was doing here!

You, too, can play this game. You can report collars directly to the USGS Bird Banding Lab online.  While most collared geese also have leg bands, it’s not necessary to have the band number, just the color of the collar and code, and an accurate reading of the 3 or 4 digits.  This works for Canadian collars, too.  You’ll get a certificate back with all the information on the original capture of the bird.


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