Dr Andrea Kölzsch, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Germany
Young Arctic geese that come to winter in the Netherlands in large numbers every year arrive mostly in family groups. Goslings usually stay with their parents through their first migration, often also all winter or even until the end of spring migration, presumably learning about routes, timing and foraging sites. However, do the goslings really learn? How close do parents and chicks stay together during migration and winter, do they synchronise their behaviour? Will goslings use the same migration routes and timing after they have separated from their parents?
To answer these questions we work together with the Russian Academy of Sciences, the institute Alterra in the Netherlands and the Dutch Society of Goose Catchers. With the help of the Dutch Socienty of Goose Catchers we are able to catch complete families of larger white-fronted geese (Anser a. albifrons) during the winter, when families are still together and goslings already large enough to carry state of the art GPS/ACC transmitters. By this collaboration we are given the unique possibility to take advantage of their special setup for catching wild geese with the help of trained decoy geese, even in times that the wild geese can fly.
From the high resolution GPS tracks and information on their behaviour we can follow the movement of all members of a goose family in their first year and understand coordination and leadership. Furthermore, we examine when and how young geese split off from their parents and how members of the same family find each other after being separated. In the coming years, we hope to also be able to compare life-time tracks of geese that were tagged as young and compare them to tracks of their parents. The results of our study will be crucial for improving the conservation of larger white-fronted geese, get an insight in their ability to adapt to the changing climate and habitat and provide an understanding of mechanisms of coordination in family groups of large birds.