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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

NEVADA FWO: The Fallon Wood Duck Project—Connecting People with Nature (CPwN)

Region 8, November 23, 2012
A participant learns how to band waterfowl which is a mission critical component of the USFWS Migratory Bird Program.
A participant learns how to band waterfowl which is a mission critical component of the USFWS Migratory Bird Program. - Photo Credit: n/a

By Michelle Hunt, Schoolyard Habitat Coordinator

In 2012, the Fallon Wood Duck Project was funded through a Pacific Southwest Region Connecting People with Nature grant. The Fallon Wood Duck project allows youth direct access to outdoor opportunities including: handling wild migratory birds, assisting biologists in collecting data, and experiencing day-to-day activities associated with being a migratory bird biologist.

The wood duck project began in 2003. Data is collected year-round which provides many opportunities for members of the general public to participate. The project is led by a PhD student and a technician from the University of Nevada Reno (UNR) who coordinate with anyone interested in this wildlife study.

At the beginning of the year, large numbers of wood ducks and other waterfowl are captured and banded. Many facets are included, such as preparing the capture sites, observing birds using the sites, capturing birds, removing them from traps, banding, collecting data, and releasing birds. Beginning in February, 344 nesting boxes are cleaned, repaired, and otherwise maintained for the nesting season which begins in mid-March. Once nesting begins, all nesting boxes are checked every Saturday through mid-July. Boxes are checked on Saturdays so that availability of citizen volunteers is maximized to help in this time consuming component of the project.

This year, over 300 individuals participated on this project. This included two large groups that visited the project during two separate field trips: 1) a group of 140 4th graders and junior high school students from Fallon, and 2) 65 sophomore and junior level college students from UNR. Over 45 individuals came out to help monitor nesting boxes and approximately 50 individuals helped capture and band birds. More than 3500 volunteer hours were accumulated.

In addition, the project officer Chris Nicolai, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service migratory bird biologist , made several presentations to school groups, the general public, and agencies. These presentations included high school classroom lectures, undergraduate wildlife classes, State of Nevada Wildlife Commissioners, the general public at fundraisers, and the Pacific Flyway Council.

The participants in this wildlife study make  the large-scale collection of scientific data possible; without their many volunteer hours, the data collection would not be possible. By providing extra funds for the project, the Connecting People with Nature grant assisted with the facilitation and coordination of interested participants by providing half of the technician salary. The technician was responsible for making contacts with educators and the general public as well as lining up activities and gaining permission from private landowners and providing direct assistance to the participants. Secondly, gas stipends were provided to the most active participants.

Given the large amount of hours spent with the general public who participate on the project, it is common to hear many comments about the project, such as: “this is the first time I have held a wild animal”, “we did not know so much data could be collected”, “the animals are so docile”, or “they are so attractive up close”. The participants not only witness how wildlife studies are carried out, they actually collect real data such as: measuring birds, banding birds, and writing data in data books. Lastly, the most impressive reactions we see from participants is when they get to release birds after banding, sometimes many of them!

The Connecting People with Nature grant allowed large-scale coordination for a wildlife project, resulting in significant public participation on an important migratory bird study. Given the large volume of participation, over 300 individuals and 3500 total volunteer hours, there appears to be great interest in public participation in migratory bird studies. Partnerships between U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Pacific Southwest Region Migratory Birds, Nevada Department of Wildlife, and Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge are working to maintain the continuance of the Fallon Wood Duck project through summer of 2016.

Contact Info: Michelle Hunt, (775) 861-6341, michelle_hunt@fws.gov