Photo Essay: Waterfowl Bands

Trophies in the Sky: The importance of waterfowl bands 

The first person to band birds in the United States was John James Audubon, who marked songbirds with silver thread in 1803. Now, biologists band more than 200,000 ducks and 150,000 geese and swans every year.  Photo by Bill Buckley.


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. Photo by Michael Carey.


Band recovery data show biologists how the harvest is distributed throughout the flyway. Using maps like the one above, biologists can estimate annual harvest rates and even annual survival rates for some waterfowl species from band recovery data. The annual variation in harvest and survival rates has helped biologists understand how breeding habitat conditions and harvest regulations affect survival.


Through 2009, most duck banding efforts have focused on mallards. The mallard is the most commonly banded and most commonly harvested duck in the United States and Canada. Approximately 7 million mallards have been banded through 2007.


The Canada goose is second on the list, with more than 2.8 million birds banded. Surprisingly, the blue-winged teal is third at 1.4 million birds banded. Large numbers of blue-winged teal are captured along with mallards on the prairies and thus are banded in higher numbers than other duck species. Photo by Michael Furtnam. 


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. Photo by Douglas Norton


Some hunters are fascinated with bands and biologists hope that the fascination results in bands being reported. Banding data has impacted waterfowl biology and conservation in several ways, including mapping the flyways. Reporting bands is another way waterfowl hunters give back to the resource. Photo by Bill Buckley. 


Sometimes it's not the band itself, but the story behind the band that intrigues hunters and biologists. A pintail banded on Sept. 2, 1940, in Athabasca County of northern Alberta eluded hazards until January 1954 when it was shot near Naucuspana, Tabasco, Mexico. Considering the 3,000 miles between band site and death, and assuming the bird made the two-way migration each year for 13 years, the pintail would have logged nearly 80,000 migration miles alone during its lifetime. Photo by Scot Fink. 


Dr. Stan Chace of Alturas, Calif., seemingly defied all odds back in the fall of 1962.  Home from school on vacation in October, Chace bagged a banded Canada goose.  In December, he shot another banded Canada. When he sat down and compared the bands, Chace found them to be consecutively numbered - the first 518-31661 and the second 518-31662. The birds had been banded in 1959 at Goose Lake. Photo by Bill Buckley.


Many waterfowl hunters wear bands they have harvested on their call lanyards.  Some have more than others, but every band tells a scientific story and a hunting heritage tale. Photo by Bill Buckley.

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If you have recovered a bird band (duck or otherwise) you can report the number to the U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Laboratory. They have an easy-to-use website, www.reportband.gov, where you can enter information about the band, or you can call 1-800-327-BAND (2263). You will receive a report on where the bird was banded and its age. Plus, you get to keep the band for your lanyard.

Have you ever harvested a banded duck or goose?  Tell us about it on Facebook!