Migration data comes from banded waterfowl

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG — Migrating waterfowl received leg bands this week, an ongoing project of wildlife bureau personnel of the Iowa DNR. Overall, about 200 geese were captured in three locations. Once captured, they are sorted, and data is collected for geese already leg banded or for those without bands, a new band was attached. Adult Canada geese are molting during late June each year and are temporarily flightless. New flight feathers will be grown between now and this fall so that the birds will be fully capable of migration journeys. Young goslings are not flight capable at this time. However, those young goslings are fast approaching adult sizes and will be testing their wings later this summer to fly with their family units to surrounding crop fields to feed. All this is in preparation for fall migration. Even killdeer birds migrate, but first, they need to bring off a new brood of young. Today’s nest of a killdeer shows how well camouflaged a nest is within its crushed rock surroundings. This author’s next trick will be an attempt to photograph the adult birds sitting on those eggs. It will not be an easy assignment, but I will try.

Migration time is only a few months away. Here we are at the beginning of July 2022, and already Mother Nature is tuning up her critters that fly to prepare for long journeys to wintering areas across the globe. This time tested sequence of events is critical for the survival of many species. Being able to fly as a means of transporting themselves is not just an individual miracle of nature, but for an entire population of species of all kinds, flying is how they get from breeding grounds to wintering grounds.

Some shorebirds make the journey from Alaska’s north country to South America’s southern tip. Other species may not travel as far, but nonetheless, the need to find a wintering area with sufficient food sources is very important.

We already know that many species are residents that do not migrate. For them, they are adapted to life in an Iowa winter, which can be difficult at times. Mother Nature has that angle covered for home body birds.

As for Canada geese, band recovery and band reporting to the US Fish and Wildlife Service is very important. This week’s banding activities did find one adult goose with a band from some previous year.

There was something special, however, in this instance. This bird’s band was unreadable. Its numbers were virtually gone!

In this instance, biologists removed that leg band and replaced it with a new band. The old leg band will be sent to a lab whereby special metallurgical processes, acid etching, can be accomplished to bring out the numbers on that old band.

According to Mike Stegmann, the director of the Marshall County Conservation Board and a dedicated waterfowler observer and hunter, geese of many species are banded across the continent to monitor longevity, migration and harvest assessment. He notes that it may seem trivial to a hunter who takes a goose that was banded locally a few years prior.

Leg band data needs to be submitted so that wildlife managers can help assess the need for longer or shorter seasons and bag limitations. Data from birds taken locally is just as important as data from birds from far away.

An interesting historical note from a Canada goose was taken last fall of 2021 in Marshall County. It was originally banded in Marshall County in 2001. That made that bird a 20 year old animal, which is pushing the limits of how old a Canada goose can live.

There is no way to know the extent of travels this bird may have made during its lifetime. It is safe to say it did not spend all of its life in Marshall County. Marshall County geese banded here have been reported from Canada and down along the entire Mississippi flyway corridor. Sometimes geese just go to far away places they have never been to before. Some urban goose research projects are putting tiny satellite transmitters to monitor daily and seasonal movements. Getting answers to bird migration questions is an exciting area of wildlife research.


Killdeer are a type of shorebird. That implies that this species likes to be near water or water’s edge environments. This adaptable small bird may also be found on lawns, parking lots, sandbars, athletic fields, golf courses or other dry places far from water.

They are very common in dry areas, and they may be found in the summer across the entire width of the USA and Canada and into southern Alaska. A killdeer nest is a simple small depression on bare ground, often within a parking lot of crushed stones, where its eggs are almost undetectable due to their spotted color pattern.

Once egg laying begins, the bird pair will add small bits of rocks, shells, sticks or trash to the nest, and the bird sitting on those eggs is also well camouflaged from aerial and ground predators. Predators will be quickly spotted, and the adult birds will run across the ground to confuse the predator. A broken wing act will be added after hatching to entice a predator to follow, leaving the nestlings undiscovered.

Killdeer adults are about 10 inches long. Eggs are usually four per nest but can be as many as six. Each egg is about 1.5 inches long. Newly hatched chicks resemble a ping pong ball with fluffy light brown downy feathers.

Killdeer eat invertebrates found along muddy shorelines, or earthworms, snails, crayfish, grasshoppers, beetles, and any insect larvae. Seeds will also be added to the mix.

Global estimates of killdeer populations tend to find numbers of 2.3 million. On a scorecard of concern, it rates a 10 out of 20, meaning this species is doing okay on its survival strategy.


July is here. Summer weather is here. Hot day time air temperatures are sure to follow. In other words, a typical Iowa summer time setting is what we can expect. Mixed in with all that, our northern hemisphere’s weather events can and will give us sunny times, a few rainy times, wind or no wind, cool night time breezes and lots of bugs of all different kinds.

One insect that we like to see at night time is the lightning bug. Sometimes, it is called a firefly. In Europe, it is called a glowworm.

Well, it is not a bug. Nor is it a fly. Nor is it a worm. It is a beetle.

Whatever we humans want to call it, this summertime sighting is a fun critter to collect. Almost every kid at some time in their life has tried to catch them and put them into a glass jar.

The goal was to see how many could be captured. Then, after admiring that jar of flashing lights from a beetle species, the next action was to open the lid and let them go back into the night.

Bioluminescence is what is going on with this beetle. Those flashes of light are a communication system by which male and female fireflies (or if you prefer, lightning bugs) find each other. Across the world, there are about 1,900 different kinds of lightning bugs.

North America has about 170 types of this beetle. Beetles showing their night time twinkling sign language have been around since the times of dinosaurs. Scientists have a long way to go to obtain an improved picture of the why and how of this beetle type insect. Nature’s mysteries will never be completely unraveled.


This weekend is a big time to celebrate the independence of this country. Over a long weekend, many folks will take to the waterways or lakes to relax, enjoy times with friends and family, and perhaps go boating. Well, one of the predictable actions of some people will be to operate a boat while under the influence of too much alcoholic beverages. A designated boat operator is a very wise choice.

Conservation officers across the nation use this weekend to stress safety while on the water. It is called Operation Dry Water. Its purpose is to stress water related recreation safety.

Alcohol, water and boats do not mix well. Intoxicated boaters, if they are not wearing a life preserver device, are hugely likely to become drowning victims if they fall into water. It is not the type of rescue or recovery action that law enforcement wants to respond to, but they will if called.

Tyson Brown, an Iowa DNR conservation officer, will be participating in Operation Dry Water. Impaired boat operators can and will be issued citations or arrested, if required, as circumstances determine.

Boat operators must have blood alcohol levels of 0.08 or less. A designated boat operator is the safer way to go. Iowa boaters on the border rivers, big natural lakes, or even smaller lakes and rivers need to be aware of both the fun and serious responsibilities of watercraft handling.

Each year several serious instances will be discovered on Iowa waters. We will read about those actions in newspapers. Death by drowning or serious injuries will make headlines, unfortunately. Do not be one of those. Be safe, especially while on the water.

Boat registrations need to be up to date for the current three year cycle. Registration paperwork must be carried in the watercraft. Life jackets for everybody on board must be available plus at least one throwable device to assist a person who may be in the water and in distress.


Have a safe and fun Fourth of July.

Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.

Contact him at:

P.O. Box 96

Albion, IA 50005


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