Waterfowl Banding Program
Migration-What is it?
In most areas of North America, waterfowl (ducks, geese and swans) are a common sight in the spring and fall. Early hunters and biologists wondered at the huge numbers of birds carried south on the autumn winds in the fall and north again during the spring.
We now know that waterfowl are migratory birds which annually make long distance migrations of several thousands of miles. Each spring, waterfowl travel from warm snow-free wintering grounds in the southern United States, Central America, and South America to northern breeding grounds located in the northern United States, Canada, and Alaska. In the fall, these birds race ahead of the snow and cold to return to the warm south.
Banding- How and Why?
The curiosity of birds traveling south in the fall and north in the spring prompted biologists to begin capturing and marking ducks with aluminum leg bands. This process is known as banding.
Picture a cool September morning. You're awakened by the annoying buzz of your alarm clock. It reads 4:30 a.m. As you struggle to get dressed, your mind wonders about the day ahead. You step out into the darkness, only your breath is visible. Duck banding season has begun.
Moments later, you find yourself huddling in a duck blind, trying to keep warm. Sunrise is still a couple hours away. As you peer through your binoculars, you notice a large number of ducks approaching the shore. For the past few days, the site has been baited with barley to insure a good catch for today's banding. Eager to eat, the unsuspecting ducks continue to make their way. At the precise moment, when the largest number of ducks is feeding, a button is pressed. Rockets explode, carrying nets over the ducks to trap them. Refuge trucks and personnel rush to the site to prevent ducks from escaping or injuring themselves.
The ducks, sometimes up to 800, are transferred from the nets into holding crates where they wait to be banded. One by one, the ducks are removed from the crates. Biologists and refuge personnel first determine the species, age, and sex of the duck. Special tools are used to secure an aluminum band around the leg of the duck. The duck is then released.
These bands provide valuable information such as where the ducks go when they leave the nesting grounds, how long they live, and often where and how they died. Much of this information comes from bands returned by hunters. When a hunter shoots a banded duck, he or she can send the band number to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and receive a special certificate. This certificate will tell what kind of duck it is (species), what sex it is (male or female), where it was banded, and how old it was when banded. Hunters often cherish these bands as rare treasures of pleasant times spent with family and friends, enjoying the beauty of the outdoors.
J. Clark Salyer NWR Banding Program
More than 14 million ducks, geese, and swans have been banded in the last 50 years. Most banding occurs in the north central prairies of the U. S. and Canada. This region is known as the Prairie Pothole Region and is the favorite home of nesting ducks in North America.
J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge in north central North Dakota has a long history in the North American preseason waterfowl banding program. During the early years of waterfowl banding, refuge personnel used cannon projected net traps. Through the years, methods such as swim-in traps, ramp traps, and drive traps were also used. Today, rockets containing military style explosives propel two nets over the ducks.
In recent years, a stronger emphasis has been placed on obtaining waterfowl information, thus increasing the number of birds banded each year. J. Clark Salyer NWR personnel have banded nearly 20,000 ducks in the last two years alone. Mallard, northern pintail, and widgeon are the most numerous species banded.