On a warm spring morning, dozens of biologists and volunteers piled onto boats at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge to head out on a wild goose chase.


For three weeks, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources captured thousands of Canada geese around the state. Biologists attach leg bands to the birds and release them again as part of a program to measure geese migration and better manage hunting seasons.

In order to capture the birds, crews set out in small groups on airboats in the shallow impoundment ponds on the refuge. During May and June, Canada geese molt and are unable to fly while growing new feathers.

As one person pilots the airboats toward the flightless birds, two more people lie on their stomachs and hang off the front of the boat where they scoop up geese while on the move.

During the day at Bear River, more than 600 geese were captured and banded through this waterfowl rodeo.

“The reason that we band geese is to determine mortality rates and survival rates,” said Rich Hansen, who manages the capture operation.

Any time a hunter shoots a goose with a leg band, they can load their location into an online database. From this, scientists get a better idea of where geese move throughout their lives and how long they live.

Despite their name, only a few of the Canada geese in Utah end up in Canada. Many of them head south to California or Arizona, while 8,000 to 12,000 will stay in Utah year-round, according to Hansen.

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