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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Lessons From the Prairie

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  • photo by Jim Ringleman, DU
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By Mike Anderson, Ph.D.

Assessing and adapting conservation strategies helps improve our management of North America's ducks

The prairie wind pushes back wet and cold under the slate-gray April sky as Frederica DeZeeuw trudges steadily back toward the truck, half a mile away. Her chest waders, grown to twice their normal size with mud, suck noisily with each step through the sodden field.

Nestled in the net bag under her arm, a mallard hen and her mate rest, no doubt thoroughly confused about what has happened since they swam into the strange wire cage where another mallard hen sat waiting. Soon to be an actor in the largest play ever devised by waterfowl scientists, for now, the hen rests quietly under the arm of the straining two-legged "predator."

Back along the road, parked on a field approach, waits a pickup camper-Ducks Unlimited's own version of a M.A.S.H. unit. Inside, out of the piercing wind, Bob Emery, DU biologist and accomplished duck surgeon, is finishing with the morning's first patient. As the respirator starts to blow oxygen without the anesthetic, the bird begins to stir.

The 20-gram radio transmitter-now securely sutured inside the hen's abdomen, away from the ovary swelling with the promise of eggs-is already beeping the signal that will allow biologists to follow her fate for as long as she remains in the Beaver Hills.

Far from DU's corporate headquarters or the comfortable malls of a university campus, these researchers labor for back-to-back, 16-hour days in this lonely place because that is the only way to do their jobs well. Nesting ducks don't take weekends off in the springtime. Bob, Frederica, and 12 other dedicated young biologists are here in the pothole-rich hills of east-central Saskatchewan because of DU's commitment to science-driven conservation.

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