Biologists will tune to K-GOOSE

Posted: Wednesday, April 19, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- About 100 of Anchorage's Canada geese will waddle around town this summer with 8-inch antennas wagging out of their backs.

The antennas and transmitters will be surgically implanted during May and July to help biologists determine their effects before being widely used in wild bird populations.

Biologists will capture female adult geese during their nesting and flightless periods, said project head Jerry Hupp, of the U.S. Geological Survey's Alaska Biological Science Center. The geese then will be taken from the capture site and will undergo the 1 1/2-hour surgical procedure.

A small incision will be made in each goose's abdomen, and the radio transmitter, which weighs about 1.2 ounces, will be slipped into the abdominal cavity after the antenna is threaded though the body wall near the bird's tail, Hupp said. The slender wire antennas are sheathed in plastic.

''Birds are not built like us,'' Hupp said as he described the process. They don't have a thickly muscled abdomen like mammals, he said, and should recover from the surgery in one- to two hours.

The abdominal incision will be sutured shut. The antenna hole will be fitted with a synthetic material stitched to the birds' skin, Hupp said. Before being released, they will be fitted with a colored leg band of metal or plastic. Some females will receive only the leg bands and will serve as the experiment's control group to compare with the radio birds.

Surgically implanted transmitters have been used for more than seven years on Alaska waterfowl to see how harlequins were affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, for example, and whether white-fronted geese are affected by aircraft noise, he said. They were first developed to study birds that dive underwater and might be hampered by radios attached by external harnesses.

Biologists think the internal radios may circumvent problems caused by those worn outside the body. Some birds with external transmitters spend more energy flying, and the device ruffles their feathers. Some spend more time than normal preening and smoothing their feathers. They also are less likely to reproduce and may lay fewer eggs, he said.

''We think that this is a good technique,'' Hupp said. Yes, the birds still have a foreign object protruding from their bodies, but it doesn't seem to affect their movements. Before the technique is widely used, biologists need to determine whether there are any effects on reproduction.

That's what this study, which will continue next summer, will help determine.

The transmitters cost about $230 each and last about 14 months, Hupp said. This will allow the project's four biologists to observe the birds this summer and through their nesting period next May.

Hupp said the decision to use Anchorage's urban goose population was easy. The population, approximately 4,000, is healthy, habituated to people and easily tracked. And while the main focus will be to determine how the birds are affected by the transmitters, the study also should provide more information about Anchorage's geese.

Biologists already have a good understanding of the city geese movement patterns and goose problem areas, he said. This study will provide more detailed information about that.

If the transmitters are deemed safe, then the technique holds much promise for research because the birds could be tracked and located easily.

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