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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Understanding Waterfowl: Story of Survival

A variety of factors affect the longevity of ducks and geese
Male geese also have higher survival rates than females, but the disparity between geese and ganders is not as great as between drakes and hens. Geese have much stronger pair bonds than ducks, and ganders remain by their mate's side throughout incubation. They also help defend the nest and aid in raising goslings. However, ganders don't sit on the nest for most of the day for three to four weeks like female geese, and therefore are not as directly vulnerable to predation as their mates.

Age is another important factor that influences waterfowl survival. Following a perilous summer on the breeding grounds, young-of-the-year waterfowl are faced with their first migration over unfamiliar territory. During this time, these recently fledged birds encounter a new group of predators: hunters.

Immature waterfowl are often the first over the decoys. Band recoveries suggest that immature waterfowl are harvested at rates 1.25 to 2.5 times higher than those of adult ducks and geese. With natural causes of mortality included, first-year ducks have a survival rate of only 30 percent to 50 percent. First-year geese have a slightly higher survival rate of 50 percent to 70 percent. And while the probability of survival increases for adult birds, at best only about 50 percent to 70 percent of adult ducks and 70 percent to 90 percent of adult geese and swans survive each year.

Waterfowl biologists are keenly aware of the differences in survival among ducks and geese. Longer-lived species with lower reproductive rates such as northern-nesting Canada and white-fronted geese receive greater attention when hunting regulations are crafted. Populations of prairie-nesting ducks, which rely on abundant wetlands and extensive grasslands, are largely driven by the breeding-season dynamics of nest success and brood survival. That's why Ducks Unlimited focuses much of its resources on conserving habitat on the prairies and in other breeding areas where large numbers of ducks are raised, while also ensuring that sufficient migration and wintering habitat is restored and protected to sustain their populations throughout their annual cycle. Ultimately, our goal is to protect, restore, and manage landscapes to ensure that ducks and geese survive and reproduce at healthy levels now and in the future.

Dale D. Humburg is chief scientist at DU national headquarters in Memphis.
BIRD BANDING: A Cornerstone of Waterfowl Management Large-scale waterfowl banding began in the 1920s and was the basis for defining the flyway system of waterfowl management. Banding data has been used by biologists for more than 60 years to monitor duck and goose movements and manage harvests.

More than 300,000 ducks, geese and swans are banded each year, mostly on the prairies and other northern breeding areas. In total, roughly 17 million ducks and geese have been banded, and 3 million of these banded birds have been reported, largely by hunters. This information is the basis for much of what we know about waterfowl biology, the rate and distribution of waterfowl harvest and the impact of changing habitat conditions on waterfowl populations.

Hunters can report band recoveries by phone at 1-800-327-BAND (2263), or they can file a report online at pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl. Beginning this year, band recovery certificates that include the species, date, age, sex and location where the bird was banded will be provided electronically.


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