State officials are weighing the fate of Peeps, a tame Canada goose and Prior Lake celebrity whose owners said they unknowingly broke federal law by keeping him as a pet.
Peeps was adopted by Ron Hendrickson and his family as a pandemic diversion, Hendrickson said, after the gosling wandered across his field in Prior Lake a year ago.
"I thought, if the world is ending, what the heck?" Hendrickson said of the decision to keep Peeps. "Last year, we were so depressed."
But geese are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a federal law that prohibits the killing, capturing, selling, trading or transport of protected migratory bird species without permission of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Tina Shaw, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Peeps' case came to the federal agency's attention after the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) received complaints, Shaw said. Since December 2020, the agency had been "working with the Hendricksons to find legal ways within the federal law so they could enjoy this goose," she said. "They were very polite but didn't seem to be following through."
The bird tried to get into someone's vehicle last week and that person called officials, Shaw said. Peeps is now with a licensed rehabilitator, she said.
"We're assessing whether it can be returned to the wild," Shaw said.
There are instances when people can keep protected birds, but they must work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, she said. The family has been given the same advice about Puddles that they were with Peeps — that the bird should be enjoyed at a "respectful distance," she said.
Hendrickson, who had already bought a shed for the birds to sleep in, said he was told to build a three-sided structure with a heater so the birds could remain somewhat wild, but he declined for fear they would be eaten by coyotes. He was told to keep posts about the birds off Facebook but thought that would only depress their fans.
Over the past year, the "tiny, little baby goose" became a playmate and family member, riding in Hendrickson's truck as he went to plant trees and lay sod last year. Peeps learned to unroll the sod and eat night crawlers, Hendrickson said.
"He went everywhere with us, because he didn't have a companion," he said.
When he wasn't hanging out at the family's pond, Peeps flew alongside Hendrickson's truck, a pattern that continued with the family's Jet Ski and four-wheeler.
After hearing about Peeps, a woman contacted the family about adopting her female goose, named Puddles. She arrived in late September.
"That goose fell in such love with Peeps the goose that she learned to fly with him," Hendrickson said.
Now, Puddles "honks and goes out of her mind" without Peeps, Hendrickson said, adding that he doesn't think she'll find a new mate she's compatible with because of her unconventional lifestyle.
Both birds know their names and commands. They inspired costumes at Halloween, and Hendrickson commissioned embroidered hats with Peeps' name on them. They're a hit on social media, garnering 2 million views on TikTok, Hendrickson said.
"They're inspirational, they're educational, they're giving geese a good name," he said. "These are therapy geese."
Peeps has inspired an online petition, and classrooms are writing letters to Gov. Tim Walz calling for the bird's release.
But for now, the bird's future hangs in the balance.
"There's got to be a way to make this a happy ending," Hendrickson said, suggesting that he be ordered to complete community service so the geese could visit schoolchildren. "Peeps, Puddles and Prior Lake — they belong together."