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SHREVE -- When Jeff Hradek got online to fill out the North American Bird Banding Program paperwork after shooting a banded good on Saturday, Dec. 31 on the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area, the email that came back wasn't the typical form letter with date and place of the bird's banding.
He was asked to check his numbers, because they didn't match up with the normal band digits that come across the North American Bird Banding Program's desk. And if possible, send along a photo of the bird and the band.
As it turns out, Hradek had killed an unusually old goose. Ancient, in fact, in goose years. When the United States Geological Survey got back to Hradek a second time, the email showed his James Bay strain of Canadian Geese was at least 24 years old, and was banded on July 19, 1994 at the mouth of the Opinnagau River, in Ontario, Canada's Polar Bear Provincial Park. As the crow flies, that's 965 miles from Wooster.
To say the bird is at least 24 years old is based on the fact that it was determined at banding to not be a hatchling, and was born in the year 1993 -- or earlier. So, it could be even older than 24 years.
Folks at the USGS are so interested in the band and bird, that they're trying to track down the actual person who banded the goose back in 1994.
"They're holding off on my certificate because such an unusually old bird sends up a red flag," said Hradek.
Ironically, Dennis Solon, the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area manager for the Ohio Division of Wildlife, once banded geese in that same region years ago.
"We used to go up there and help (Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources)," said Solon, noting electric fences were put up around the area to protect workers from polar bears, who summer there. "The idea was to help determine what was happening to the Southern James Bay population. It was dwindling, and they wanted to know if it was hunter pressure or predators. Different states sent people up to help Ontario band geese."
Hradek believed the banded goose he shot was flying with a flock of Giant Canada Geese, noting his bird was a bit smaller.
"The craziest thing about the situation is that bird made it down south (at least) 23 times," said Hradek. "That's pretty impressive."
"That's got to be right up there on the age spectrum," said Solon, noting the oldest goose he was aware of was 19.
Hradek, 27, has been waterfowl hunting for the past seven years, giving up deer hunting to pursue ducks and geese seriously. He says he's shot "a lot" of geese this year, and often hunts the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area, but this is only the second time he's shot a banded goose. The other was in 2006.
"The band on that goose looks pristine compared to this one," said Hradek. "You can tell this band is old. It's worn away in several spots, and some of the writing is hard to make out."
Shooting a banded bird is quite a prize for a waterfowler, and not only serves as a lasting memento for the hunter, but also helps researchers plot migration routs and chart ages. It's a another tool used to help regulate populations and set hunting restrictions.
The oldest known wild Canada Goose was a female, and at least 33 years, 3 months old when she was shot in Ontario in 2001. She had been banded in Ohio in 1969. Generally, wild Canada Geese have a life expectancy of 10-24 years.
Outdoor Editor Art Holden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org