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T.R.'s Tips; Understadning Duck & Goose Biology
Old 06-11-2009, 05:14 PM
TRMichels TRMichels is offline
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Default T.R.'s Tips; Understadning Duck & Goose Biology

This is from my book Duck & Goose Addict's Manual.

Chapter 4: Duck Biology and Behavior

As a guide, researcher, speaker and writer, I have always been interested in learning about the animals I hunt: how they react to the weather, which calls they use and why, and when and how they mate; so that I could use the information to become a better hunter. Even though I'd cut my eye teeth on a duck call, and I'd been hunting ducks for over thirty years I knew I didn't know it all. So, when I met well known waterfowl biologist and goose researcher Dr. Jim Cooper in the 1990's I decided to pick his brain. I specifically asked him what calls were best for hunting. He told me that if I really wanted to learn about duck social behavior I should read the book Handbook Of Waterfowl Behavior by Dr. Paul Johnsgard. He also suggested the book Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America. What I learned from my conversations with Jim, and from those two books, has dramatically changed the way I hunt ducks and geese.

While I was reading Johnsgard's book I was amazed to find out that mallards don't use the chuckle to signify that they are feeding, or to entice other ducks to join them while they are feeding. I had grown up thinking that ducks used the chuckle as a feeding call, that they used the hail or high ball to get other ducks to come and join them, and that they used the comeback to get ducks that were flying the other way to turn around. And that is the problem with most game calling and decoying techniques. Many hunters don't understand the meaning of the calls they use, or why ducks interact with other ducks they way they do.

Duck Social Structure
Waterfowl biologists refer to the mating behavior (courtship behavior as opposed to actual breeding) of ducks, geese and swans as pair bonding. Most waterfowlers know that geese mate, or pair bond, for life. After they pair bond the male and female stay together during nesting, and the young stay with the parents through the fall and winter. The young geese don't usually leave their parents or begin to pair bond until they are on the wintering grounds during their fist or second year. This means that, during the hunting season, most geese are still in family groups consisting of the male, the female, and their young.

Ducks, on the other hand, do not mate for life; they regularly form a pair bond with a new partner each year. But, the male and female don't stay together to raise the young, and the young don't stay with the females very long. The drakes of most duck species leave the hens as soon as they start to nest, or shortly after. The hens then raise the ducklings by themselves. During the summer the hens molt (which leaves them flightless); and the young ducks grow their first flight feathers and begin to fly. After the young ducks learn to fly they may no longer associate with the hen, and they are generally on their own.

Both young and old ducks then begin forming loose pair bonds from late summer through early winter. Pair bonding by older Mallards may begin as early as mid-August. Pair bonding by other puddle duck species may occur from mid-October through winter, and by divers from mid-winter through early spring. Pair bonding is often accompanied by aerial courtship flights and displays, and by calls that are associated with pair bonding behavior. As a result of this social behavior, ducks are not normally in family groups during the hunting season; they are usually in flocks consisting of unrelated individuals and newly bonded pairs.

Chapter 5: Goose Biology and Behavior

Shortly after I began guiding goose hunts I met Dr. Jim Cooper, one of the most highly respected waterfowl researchers in the world. When I met him he was an Associate Professor of Wildlife with the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at the University of Minnesota, and he had been studying Canada Geese for over twenty-five years. The first time we met I told him I wanted to pick his brain about the calling, feeding habits, reaction to weather, habitat, family behavior, flock makeup and migration patterns of geese. After talking to Jim, and reading the results of his studies, it became apparent to me how important the family behavior of the flock is in understanding geese. Once I began to understand what the role of the family is in the flock, it changed the way I hunt geese.

Goose Social Structure
Geese traditionally mate for life. In the winter, geese congregate in large flocks consisting of several groups or subflocks. When the geese migrate north in the spring the subflocks, consisting of several families, stay together and the young return to the same body of water where they learned to fly. If there is available habitat young female geese will nest in the same area where they were raised. The result of this is that the flock in that area is related through the female side of the family. They stay together throughout the year and recognize each other by sight and sound. In the fall groups of families from nearby areas often band together to form the subflocks. If there are several subflocks together at one site, the individual subflocks remain apart from each other. Although subflocks may be made up of hundreds of geese, the families within the subflocks remain together, and the individuals within each family remain in close contact with each other. On the ground each family of from two to twelve or more birds requires its own space, apart from the other families. In the air the geese fly in family groups.

Food Preferences
Geese are primarily grazers. They eat succulent greens likes sedges, grasses and forbes (wild flowers) when they are available. Even when there is abundant corn I have seen geese eating grass on city parks and golf courses while most of the ground was covered with snow. If you can find a green field of grass, alfalfa or clover it is one of the best places to decoy geese. Geese also eat the leaves and seeds of small grains like oats, barley and wheat. They will also eat the new green sprouts of sugar beets, and leftover sugar beets. In the fall Canada geese seem to prefer oat and barley fields over wheat fields. After forbes, sedges, grasses and small grains have lost their chlorophyll in the fall geese will also eat larger grains like corn and soybeans.

Feeding Habits and Resting Periods
Geese generally fly out to feed twice a day, once within an hour of daylight, and again within an hour of sunset. When they are don feeding geese may fly back to their nighttime roost to rest during they day, or they may rest on other lakes, ponds and sloughs. During the day geese often loaf or sleep on the water or nearby land. In urban areas geese will often spend the midday hours at city parks, golf courses, and lakes and ponds with homes around them.

Reaction to Weather; Barometer, Wind Speed, Precipitation, Temperature
Weather affects geese in a number of different ways. Noted waterfowl biologist Dr. Jim Cooper says that because geese have numerous air sacks in their body they have the ability to detect subtle barometric pressure changes. Because of their ability to feel barometric pressure changes geese often feed heavily before or during the first few hours of a storm, and again after a storm lets up. When severe fall storms approach late in the fall geese often stop feeding and begin to flock-up as much as two days before the storm, and if the storm is severe enough, and the food sources are depleted, they may migrate. Heavy precipitation and strong winds make it difficult for geese to fly, therefore, unless they are migrating, they may not fly as much or as far as they normally would. When there is precipitation with high winds geese often fly lower than normal. In heavy rain or snow geese may fly out only once late in the morning, or they may not fly at all.

When temperature or wind-chill is above 20 to 25 degrees geese normally fly out to feed within a half-hour of sunrise, and again within an hour of sunset. When the temperature or wind-chill is below 20 degrees Canada geese often fly out later in the morning than normal; or they may not fly out to feed in the morning, but wait until late afternoon to feed. When the temperature or wind-chill is below 20 degrees geese often spend a lot of time resting or sleeping to preserve their energy. When the temperature or wind-chill is below 10 to 15 degrees giant Canada geese often remain on the roost all day, or they may take short flights before returning to the roost. According to Dr. Jim Cooper, if geese fly in extremely cold weather they may actually lose more calories than they gain in feeding. His studies show that giant Canadas can go 30 days without feeding or leaving the roost.

Reaction to Visibility; Light, Fog, Rain, Snow
Because geese rely on their sight to detect danger they donít like to feed or rest on land in low light conditions. They usually wait to feed until there is sufficient light for them to feel secure. However, geese will often feed long into the night when there is a full moon and no clouds. As a result of this they may not fly out to feed in the morning during the full moon. Clouds, rain, snow or fog generally cause geese to fly out later in the morning than normal because of reduced visibility. New snow or fog disorients geese and they may fail to recognize refuge lines and feeding fields, which makes them wary of anything that doesnít look right. When they are going out to feed they often follow other flying flocks, and look for fields that have flocks already feeding in them before they land.

The larger subspecies of Canada geese nest primarily below the 60th parallel, with western subspecies nesting as far south as northern California and Utah. The smaller subspecies nest above the 60th parallel; these geese begin to migrate toward their wintering areas in the fall when cold weather, strong winds and snow signal the onset of winter. They may migrate only as far as they have to in order to find open water, available food, and temperature suitable to their body size. Because of their large body size giant Canadas can withstand colder temperatures than their smaller relatives; they may not migrate any farther south than the northern tier of the United States.

If you have questions - fire away.

God bless and good hunting,

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Re: T.R.'s Tips; Understadning Duck & Goose Biology
Old 06-14-2020, 05:17 PM
HSM_miner HSM_miner is offline
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Default Re: T.R.'s Tips; Understadning Duck & Goose Biology

Nice read...now I have the itch to get out hunting! Well I can get my reloads fine tune for goose season!
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Re: T.R.'s Tips; Understadning Duck & Goose Biology
Old 06-17-2020, 07:48 PM
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JaDub JaDub is offline
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Default Re: T.R.'s Tips; Understadning Duck & Goose Biology

thank s, TR. I go out duck and goose hunting by myself in public areas. Not very productive but I really enjoy it. Spend most of my time `spot and stalking`. A bird going home with me is a bonus. Again, thanks for your words of wisdom !

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