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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Why Do We Band Ducks? 

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Every summer, Ducks Unlimited operates waterfowl banding crews at stations in the Prairie Pothole Region of North and South Dakota. Dedicated and experienced research assistants use wire traps baited with grain to capture ducks through the hottest days of August and well into September. They attach an aluminum band engraved with a unique number to the leg of each duck that they capture. Then they record the band number, age sex and species of the banded ducks on 'schedules' which are sent to the Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) in Patuxent, Maryland-where they are uploaded to the bird banding database for storage. This pre-hunting season banding effort results in the release of several thousand banded ducks by Ducks Unlimited crews in an average year. Thousands more ducks are banded and released at refuges and wildlife areas across the US and Canada by state and federal wildlife management agencies.

During subsequent hunting seasons, waterfowl hunters report the band numbers of banded ducks that they find or harvest. Most of these reports are received through the 1-800-327-BAND telephone number at the BBL. (This toll-free number is engraved on every band and has substantially increased reporting rate since its inception in 1995.) The hunter usually keeps the band as a souvenir, but the BBL also sends a certificate to each hunter that details the date of banding, sex and age of the bird, and the location where it was banded.

Banding projects can be thought of as a long-standing cooperative research project between waterfowl biologists, managers of waterfowl populations, and waterfowl hunters. The rewards of reporting the harvest or discovery of a banded duck don't stop with a certificate and a new ring for the call lanyard. A wealth of information that is highly useful to the management of duck populations is contained in these reports. Analysis of the distribution and timing of band recoveries has led to greatly increased knowledge about migration patterns and population dynamics. This knowledge has allowed wildlife professionals to refine and improve the management of North America's duck populations. 

One of the primary motivations for banding ducks was to identify the wintering areas and migration routes used by ducks. Band recovery distributions during the past fifty years are the foundation of the familiar flyways-based management system that we use today. Knowing the primary migration routes and wintering areas used by ducks helped early managers of waterfowl populations to connect key wintering/migration areas to breeding areas. 

Band recovery data also contain considerable information about waterfowl populations and hunter behavior. Using these data, and data from reward band studies (studies where birds are double-banded and a monetary reward is offered fro reporting the band), researchers can estimate age-, sex-, and species-specific survival probability, harvest rate, crippling loss, derivation of harvest, recovery rate, and band reporting rate! All of these parameters help wildlife professionals set seasons and bag limits more effectively-ensuring healthy duck populations for the future.

This year Ducks Unlimited's three banding crews have banded approximately 5,000 ducks of several common species. Many of these birds, especially the blue-winged teal, have already departed for warmer climates. Some of them may arrive in your decoys this fall! If you are lucky enough to harvest a banded duck, please take the time to report your band number to the Bird Banding Laboratory. When you do you will have the satisfaction of helping to increase our understanding of waterfowl populations and improving our management of waterfowl as well as being a participant in one of the longest-running wildlife research projects anywhere in the world. Click the map to the right for a larger, more detailed version.

Final Duck Banding Totals From Crosby, ND & Lake Ilo, ND
Our two crews completed duck banding on September 20th, just in time for a large number of mallards to arrive at Lake Ilo NEW. Both crews worked hard and deserve much credit for working duck traps every morning from August 3rd until September 20th. Duck numbers at Lake Ilo were below normal during all of August and September. Mallards proved to be elusive at Crosby again this year while blue-wings were abundant and happy to a get a free meal in the traps. Following are this year's final results from both banding locations. 

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