By Jennifer Kross, Great Plains Regional Office Communications
You know that feeling: First, the thrill of sending your dog to retrieve a duck that has just fallen from the sky. Then, the feeling of anticipation: Will this duck have a band?
Hunters covet these rings like small trophies, symbols of their duck-hunting prowess. But waterfowl bands provide valuable information to scientists about duck populations, survival, migration routes, hunter harvest rates and winter and nest-site fidelity. Results from banding studies support national and international conservation programs such as the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Since Dr. Paul Bartsch started banding birds in 1902, the tiny aluminum bands have been providing information about migratory birds and helping biologists identify habitats that provide for these birds throughout their life cycle.
For nine years Ducks Unlimited has been banding ducks at the Goebel Ranch in South Dakota, and for 14 years at sites throughout North Dakota. This year, another crew of banding technicians is setting out with hundreds of small aluminum bands to set traps, catch ducks and send them off with new jewelry. The North Dakota crews are being led by Rick Warhurst, DU manager of conservation programs for the Dakotas. Each year, banding operations start in early August and run until the end of September. This year’s North Dakota banding teams were deployed to Lake Ilo National Wildlife Refuge in Dunn County, the Audubon Wetland Management District in McLean and Ward counties and DU’s Coteau Ranch in Sheridan County.
"North Dakota has received a lot of moisture this summer," Warhurst said. "Given the great wetland conditions, we will have plenty of wetlands to choose from for trapping sites."
Another crew at DU’s Goebel Ranch, led by Randy Meidinger, DU manager of conservation programs in South Dakota, is gearing up for what looks to be a good banding season. "It was a good year for duck nesting on Goebel, and hopefully that will equate to a large number of young birds in our traps this season," said Meidinger.
How do technicians trap ducks for banding?
The traps used to capture ducks for banding are a curiosity for local landowners who wonder how the ducks end up in them. The traps are built from utility fencing bent into a cloverleaf shape. Where the ends of the fence come together, there is a funnel that lets the ducks swim into the trap but prevents them from swimming out. Technicians secure the trap using rebar stakes in a wetland with a water depth of about two feet. Netting is secured over the top and the trap is baited, usually with barley or corn. The traps sit overnight and the technicians return the next day to gather the birds and start banding.