Oct 15, 2011

In pursuit of a wild goose...

It is one thing to set a trap to capture a group of flighted birds. It is tremendously challenging to capture an individual flighted bird. It takes a great deal of planning, patience, and steadfast determination.

A wild Canada goose with fishing line wrapped around both of its legs was discovered at a park near Watsonville, CA. It limped, but could still fly. Unfortunately, over two consecutive days, the bird was chased by untrained people with nets, thinking they were doing the right thing, but only making matters worse - making the bird fearful.

Deanna, one of WildRescue's lead responders took on the challenge. Here is her account:

On Friday, October 7th, Day One of the "Wild Goose Chase", I met up with the finder, Matt, who had been kind enough to take notice of the injured goose and seek help. Matt was working with the bird as best he could, feeding it throughout the day, trying to gain its trust. Since the goose seemed comfortable with him, I let Matt continue to bait the bird while I crouched behind his frame with a net. 

The injured goose immediately looked at me as though I was an intruder. He appeared very nervous and I knew if I swung the net and missed, we might never get a second chance. 

There were several people nearby, some with small children running, and others walking dogs. This had all the birds on alert. I backed off and spent 30 minutes tossing grain and crackers until the entire flock was startled by a passerby and took to the lake for safety. 

I went back the next day, an hour's drive from my home, and found four geese and an assorted group of waterfowl feeding near the shore, except for the injured one. Through binoculars I saw it resting on a floating structure in the lake, as if to taunt me. Matt, offered to keep watch and contact me if the goose came to shore.

No such luck. It was a beautiful weekend, which meant the park was bustling with visitors.

When I returned on Monday, all of the geese were resting on shore. I approached slowly and quietly along a fence, away from the geese, and looped around without them noticing (or so I thought). I set the hoop of my long-handled net behind two garbage cans, to keep it hidden, and then sat next to a picnic table near the geese. 

I began baiting them in with grain, and was able to get the injured goose within a few feet of me. As I extended my arm for the net, I noticed that his eyes were fixed on the garbage cans as if he already knew the net was there. I had not fooled this goose and the slightest movement spooked him.

I scooted towards the goose on my knees, inch by inch, tossing grain with one hand and sliding the net along the ground behind me with the other. As soon as he was within arms reach I swung the net around and over him. By that time he had lifted off the ground. I had him partially inside the net but he was so fast and so incredibly strong that he tilted to the left and out of the net.

Tuesday marked my fourth visit to the park in pursuit of the injured goose. I arrived to find all of the geese swimming on the far side of the lake. I decided to give him a break and I need a mental break, too. Now that he'd been conditioned to fear the net, I needed to come back with an entirely different plan. Game on.

Friday marked one week. I arrived with a different strategy and determination - I was not leaving empty handed.

All of the geese were swimming close to shore. I collected my gear - scissors, camera, pillowcase, but no net. I sat down at a picnic table near the geese and ignored them. 

I waited at least 45 minutes until, finally, they came ashore and began preening. 

I waited for them to settle in and get comfortable before walking towards them slowly, tossing grain. They formed a semi-circle around my feet. Soon, the injured goose, tired of standing on one leg, sat down. 

I slowly positioned myself behind and to the left of him (placing him to my right - my stronger side). I knelt down, continuing to toss tidbits. I could tell my positioning made him nervous. I distracted him with an extra-large portion of grain, tossed purposefully to his right, forcing him to turn slightly away from me. I told myself, “It’s now or never, and don't hesitate!" 

I counted to 3 and sprang. Quickly uncoiling, I enveloped his body - my chest over him, ‘hugging’ him while I carefully folded in his powerful wings. 

He was quite mad - and was hissing. 

I carried him to the picnic table and managed his head and most of his body into the pillowcase, leaving his legs exposed. This reduced his visual stress, kept his wings folded, and allowed me to quickly snip the main line and perform a very quick assessment of his injuries. A bystander, John Benka, asked if he could help. (Thank you John!)

CLICK to enlarge.

My hope was to remove the line and release the goose back to his mate, which was now anxiously watching from the water's edge. Unfortunately, the line on the left leg had cut deeply into the flesh and the joint appeared inflamed. I placed the goose in a carrier and headed to the wildlife hospital.

During the drive I begin to question my actions. I was thrilled that, finally, after a week of this "game", I was able to catch the goose, and "won". But now, what will its fate be?  

If I had cut the line and released him, would he have lived?  He had been managing with a limp, he could fly and paddle, he was eating, and his mate was at his side.

Had it not been reported, had we not ‘rescued’ it, nature would have taken its course, and now I feel I've interrupted that. Was it for the better? What if it loses its foot? 

In a rehabilitation setting, most birds that lose use of an appendage will be considered for euthanasia. This is not the decision of the wildlife hospital necessarily, but of the permitting agency under which it operates. In most cases, this is in the best interest of the bird - especially large-bodied birds that might suffer severe, secondary ailments as a result. 

If they can't save the foot, will this goose be euthanized? Will all that time and effort to "save" him have been for nothing? I'll have captured him and simply driven him to death's door. 

It's never black and white, though. Every situation is unique. As animal rescuers, we make a decision in the moment that we feel is the right one, often from a human-based perspective, not always considering the animal's. I just hope that this doesn't turn out to be a "lose-lose". I have a lot of respect for this goose, and I'd love nothing more than to see him back in the wild again. This has definitely been a journey on many levels.

GOOD NEWS!!! The goose is recovering at the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley and is doing pretty well, according to caregivers. It's on anti-inflammatory medication. It's blood work looked good - no sign of infection. It will undergo further evaluation in the coming days. They say he or she is a real fighter - a very big and very angry goose. 

If you'd like to contribute to the care of this particular goose - help the center pay for its medications, please click HERE.


Sammarye said...

Great job, Deanna!

Unknown said...

You are awesome! We have the exact same situation with a Canada Goose Dominant Male here at Lake Murray. When we told the park employees, they chased him in a boat in the water. They ended up chasing the wrong goose and was able to net him/her as his head was barely above water and it appeared as if it was going under. I so regretted telling them about it when I saw that they almost killed this poor goose. They gave me and my husband the go ahead to try and capture this goose and for 1 week we have been going to Lake Murray here in San Diego and feeding him along with the others, attempting to jump on him with a small blanket but he evades us every time. He has the line around both legs and is limping, he flies and swims but one of the legs is larger than the other. I really hope we can manage to catch him and remove the line, now that I've read your blog, we will take him to Project Wildlife instead of releasing him back to the lake. Any other advise anyone has would be helpful.