One of the challenges facing waterfowl biologists today is a paucity of pintail banding data. This has made it difficult for waterfowl managers to calculate mortality rates or to determine derivation of harvest (where harvested birds are raised) for different segments of the pintail population. To help address this need, banding crews are now working to band pintails in several new study areas throughout North America .
Researchers use a variety of techniques to capture waterfowl for banding. Most prairie ducks are caught in baited traps. Wood ducks are often captured while inhabiting nest boxes. At some eider colonies, researchers use hunting dogs to help locate and catch nesting hens in thick vegetation. Many divers are caught in drive traps (flightless, molting birds are herded into nets). Banding crews also primarily trap geese when they are flightless, either as juveniles or as molting adults, by driving them into funnel traps. On arctic breeding areas, biologists use helicopters to herd flightless geese into funnels. Researchers capture wintering ducks using baited traps or rocket nets. Wintering sea ducks are caught using night-lighting, net-guns, and floating mist nets.
Researchers mark many arctic-nesting geese with color-coded plastic neck collars in addition to leg bands. Because neck collars are visible from afar, birds fitted with them can be observed and identified without being harvested. But recovery rates of neck-collared geese are roughly twice those of birds marked only with a metal leg band, probably because hunters are able to identify neck-collared birds in flight and selectively harvest them. Thus, neck collars may be very useful management tools, but they are also a liability for the birds that wear them.
Neck collar studies of geese are used to delineate wintering grounds of various subspecies and subpopulations of Canada geese. They also help managers differentiate between goose populations on their wintering grounds, as well as between migratory and resident populations. Waterfowl managers have applied this information to protect vulnerable goose populations and subspecies, such as the Atlantic Canada goose and the Aleutian cackling goose (formerly the Aleutian Canada goose), while still maximizing hunting opportunity for more abundant look-alike goose subspecies.
Some arctic-goose banding stations also serve as long-term research sites. Biologists studying snow geese at La Pérouse Bay, Manitoba, have banded birds at this nesting colony for more than 30 years. Researchers have marked some 100,000 geese there during this period, and 12 percent of these birds have been recovered and reported. Such long-term studies are especially valuable in detecting changes in survival among goose populations over time. In the case of La Pérouse Bay snow geese, the lifespan of these birds has increased significantly in recent decades. Hunters, who have contributed greatly to this research, have reported 97 percent of band recoveries of these geese.
In addition to their scientific applications, leg bands and neck collars are cherished by waterfowlers as tangible reminders of successful hunts, and many hunters adorn their call lanyards with these colorful markers as tokens of their skill and experience. Although bands may only be inexpensive plastic and aluminum, to both waterfowlers and biologists they are invaluable.