Waterfowl Banding Investigations
The following activities are written to enhance and extend the students' knowledge of waterfowl banding and the information gained from that process. The activities are written in three parts, each varying in grade level and skills. Feel free to adapt the procedures to fit your students' needs.
Two other activities, the Northern Pintail Survival Game and J. Clark Salyer NWR Waterfowl Banding Program, provide teachers and students with important background information about waterfowl survivorship and the banding process.
Overview of Activities:
Part I: How to Interpret a Band Return
Provides students an opportunity to learn the various codes that the Bird Banding Office in Maryland and J. Clark Salyer NWR use to compile banding data. This is the first introduction to scientific data that is currently being used to learn about waterfowl flyways and survivorship. Students will read and interpret a small sample of band returns.
Part II: Where Are They Now?
Working in partnerships, students will plot 30-40 band returns on a map of North America. Students will make comparisons between the banding location and recovery location.
Part III: Scavenger Hunt:
Students are given band returns and asked to go on a "scavenger hunt" in search of the most unique pieces of information.
All banding information in the United States is recorded and compiled at the Bird Banding Office in Laurel, Maryland. J. Clark Salyer NWR receives all the band returns from Maryland on the ducks that have been banded on the refuge. The compiled information is in the form of a band return report. The number of band returns on a report can vary from as few as 2 or 3 entries to as many as 200 entries. J. Clark Salyer receives band return reports periodically throughout the year.
- J. Clark Salyer bands over 10,000 ducks each year.
- It is through this banding process that biologists learn important information about waterfowl survivorship and their migratory routes.
Band Return Code Descriptions:
(Part I): The information on the band return reports are classified into different categories by code. The codes and definitions are described below:
Band No.: This is the band number that was attached to the duck's leg. This number is not an ongoing count of the number of ducks banded at the refuge. It is simply a unique sequential series of numbers. Example: #1377-22450
AOU: This is the code for the different species of ducks. Under this heading, numbers are recorded to represent each duck species. The number for each species are as follows:
- 1320 is the number for mallard.
- 1330 - black duck
- 1370 - wigeon
- 1350 - gadwall
- 1390 - green-winged teal
- 1400 - blue-winged teal
- 1420 - shoveler
- 1430 - pintail
- 1440 - woodduck
- 1460 - redhead
- 1470 - canvasback
- 1490 - lesser scaup
- 1500 - ring-necked duck
In Part I: How to Interpret a Band Return, species codes are used in the band return report. However, in Part II: Where Are They Now?, the species codes have been converted to four-letter abbreviations to save students from always looking up the species number. For example, shoveler will be shov .
RYR: refers to the year in which the duck was recovered.
How: a number indicates how the duck was recovered.
- 01 means the duck was shot.
- 89 means the duck was retrapped at another banding location or refuge.
- 99 means the duck was retrapped at J. Clark Salyer.
- 18 means botulism.
In Part I: How to Interpret a Band Return, codes are used in the band return report. However, in Part II: Where Are They Now?, the codes have been converted to four-letter abbreviations. For example, a duck that was retrapped at another banding location will read as "reot". Retrapped at J. Clark Salyer will appear as "reSa".
RSTA: refers to the state or country/province where the duck was recovered. Two-letter abbreviations are used in most cases. For example, ON means Ontario, SK means Saskatchewan, and TX means Texas. Shortened versions of country names are used in some cases. For example, Mex means Mexico, Nic means Nicaragua, and Equa means Equador.
RLat: This is the latitude of the recovery location. For example, J. Clark Salyer NWR latitude is 483. This number is read as 48 degrees 30 minutes.
RLong (or RLon): This is the longitude of the recovery location. For example, J. Clark Salyer longitude is 1004. This is read as 100 degrees and 40 minutes.
Age: This number refers to the stage of life, not years of life.
- 01 means the duck is immature.
- 02 means the duck is adult.
Sex: This number means male or female.
- The number 4 represents male.
- The number 5 represents female.
BYR: This is the year in which the duck was banded at J. Clark Salyer NWR.
Survived (or Surv):This number refers to the number of hunting seasons the duck survived. This number can be used to determine the age of a duck.
Details, details, and more details! During the short time I've worked with J. Clark Salyer refuge personnel on this project, I've learned so much about the work that's being done here. The banding information alone is overwhelming! For every piece of information that can be learned from a band return, there are many other details that a non-refuge person needs to know. I can't tell you how many revisions I've made on just these three short activities. It is my hope that I've provided enough details that will help you make this a fun and learning experience for your students.
As the students interpret the band returns, questions or misconceptions may come up.
The 586 band returns used for these activities give a true indication of flyways or migratory routes.
Explanation: Over a long period of time and a large number of band returns, recovery (or state) locations do indicate this. The band return report used in class consists of only 586 returns, not enough to give a true indication of flyways. But if compared to flyways or routes in books such as Ducks,Geese, and Swans by Frank Bellros, similarities can be found.
Age of Ducks: The band return reports will refer to the age of a duck as an adult or an immature. This concept might confuse some students when comparing the age of two ducks.
Compare two ducks that were recovered 15 years after their banding. Duck #1 was an immature duck. Duck #2 was an adult duck. Which duck is older? Duck #2 and here's why: Duck #2 was already an older duck at the time of banding. Add on the 15 years and this duck is the oldest of the two.
The following definitions provide general information about migration and banding.
migration: The movement of animals between north and south regions of the world during certain times of the year.
leg band: a unique-numbered aluminum band placed on a duck's leg for identification purposes.
fall migration: a time of the year when animals migrate to warmer regions of the world; occurs in the fall.
spring migration: a time of the year when animals return to the breeding grounds; occurs in the spring.
band return: compiled information about a duck once it has been recovered (shot, found dead, retrapped, or disease).
flyway: flight routes established by migratory birds. Tend to follow major geographical features; mountain ranges, coasts, major rivers, etc.
wintering grounds: warm regions of the world where birds migrate to rest and feed.
breeding grounds: regions of the world where birds return to mate and raise their young.
botulism: a fatal poisoning from the ingestion of a toxin that is produced by a bacteria. It is not unusual for hundreds of ducks to die at a time.
Part I: How to Interpret a Band Return
1) Students will learn how to interpret band return reports provided by J.Clark Salyer NWR.
2) Students will describe three types of information that can be learned from band return reports.
(The highlighted link will provide you with a sample of 20 band returns.)
Sample band return report
The band returns are provided by J.Clark Salyer NWR.
Transparency of band report
Map of North America - The map will provide students with a visual reference if they are curious about recovery locations during this lesson.
So far the students have learned about the obstacles that affect waterfowl survivorship through the northern pintail survival game. They've also learned that J. Clark Salyer NWR has an extensive banding program that obtains information about waterfowl survivorship and migration routes.
Explain to students that they will learn how to read and interpret the same data that the biologists at J. Clark Salyer NWR do.
Briefly reveiw the vocabulary words (see Other Details) and the background information of J. Clark Salyer Waterfowl Banding Program.
1) Divide students into partnerships.
2) Each partnerships needs the following materials: a copy of the sample band return report and a map of North America.
1) Define each category on the band return report. Some codes may need more explanation.
2) As a class, read the first entry.
This return tells us:
- The duck species was a wigeon.
- It was recovered in 1978.
- The "01" under the "How" category tells us the duck was shot.
- It was recovered in the state, AR which means Arkansas.
- The latitude is read as 34 degrees, 0 minutes.
- The longitude is read as 91 degrees, 10 minutes.
- The age of the duck was an immature.
- The "5" under the "Sex" category means that this was a female duck.
- This duck was banded in 1976.
- And the duck survived 3 hunting seasons.
3) Now, pose the question: What information can be learned from this band entry? age, species, recovery state, etc.
4) Continue to read the rest of banding returns, posing questions about unique band returns.
5) As a review, ask students to describe 3 types of information that can be learned by banding return reports. Other questions to consider: Within this sample, are there any patterns developing? (All mallards recovered? All females recovered? adult or immature? recovery states, etc.)
Part II: Where Are They Now?
1) Students will read and interpret band return reports.
2) Students will plot recovery locations to show the relationship of where ducks are banded to where ducks are recovered.
Each partnership needs the following:
Band return report
with 30-40 entries (This link will provide you with 586 band returns. Download all returns and divide them among the partnerships)
Laminated North America map-must include Mexico and Central America
Overhead markers; a different color or symbol to represent each species
An atlas for each partnership
Now that the students have learned how to interpret a band return report, the next step will involve a closer look at some unique recovery locations.
Your goal is to plot the duck species and their recovery location on a map. This will show where the ducks travel after they've been banded at J. Clark Salyer NWR. This information will come from the 30-40 band returns your partnership will receive.
1) Distribute the necessary materials to each partnership.
2) Designate a color and/or symbol to represent the duck species. The colors/symbols will be plotted on the map.
Later, if the class wants to compile data from all 586 returns, the data will be easier to read if all partnerships use the same colors/symbols to represent the duck species.
3) It may be helpful to do a couple entries in class so that the students fully understand how to record their information.
a) For the first entry, locate the heading AOU (duck species). For example, the species is pintail.
b) Now locate the heading RSTA (recovery state/country). This information will read as a two-letter abbreviation. For example, the recovery state is MO for Missouri.
c) On the map, record the color/symbol for the mallard species in the state of Missouri.
d) Let the students continue until are returns have been plotted.
Once the students have plotted 30-40 band returns, ask them to draw some conclusions about their compiled data. Questions to consider:
- What do you notice about the recovery locations?
- What patterns have developed? More females vs. males? Adults vs. juveniles (or immature)? etc.
- What can we conclude about the plotted recovery locations?
Next, have partnerships join into a group of 4 and compare their data with each other. What similarities can be found? differences?
- Once all the information has been plotted, the class could compile the data from all partnerships and create graphs, tables, or charts to show the information from the 586 band returns.
- Students could research the band returns, looking for comparisons. Some examples might include:
- adult female survivorship vs. immature female survivorship
- date of banding vs. date of recovery
- number of species banded
- Have students research the different flyways of duck migration. Students can compare their plotted map to the flyways.
- Students could interview local hunters to learn why they hunt.
- Have students plot the recovery locations according to the latitude and longitude readings.
Part III. Scavenger Hunt
1) Students will read and interpret band returns in search of unique information.
2) Students will answer questions by comparing specific pieces of data found on the band return reports.
Divide students into groups of 4.
Each group needs the following:
Band return report containing all 586 returns
Band Return Scavenger Hunt questions
1) Explain to the students that they are going on a banding report "scavenger hunt". Your goal is to find the most interesting pieces of information. For example, how old is the oldest duck? Or what was the greatest distance traveled by a duck?
2) Explain to the students that they will be using 586 band returns to answer the scavenger hunt questions.
Band Return Scavenger Hunt:
Using the band report information, answer the following questions. Record your answers in the space provided.
- What is the age (according to the banded year, recovery year, and hunting seasons survived)of the oldest duck?
- What is the greatest distance a duck has traveled?
- What is the most northern location of a recovered duck?
- Which state has the most recoveries?
- What is the most southern location of a recovered duck?
- Which state has the least recoveries?
- What state had the most adult female recoveries?
- What is the easternmost location of a recovered duck?
- What is the westernmost location of a recovered duck?
- What is the shortest period of time between banding year and recovery year?
- What duck traveled the farthest in the shortest period of time? Hint: Look for the same year in the banding and recovery date.
- What state had the most immature female recoveries?
- What state had the most pintail recoveries?
- What state had the most wigeon recoveries?
- What was the total number of mallard recoveries for the state of North Dakota?
- What was the total number of recoveries due to botulism?
Wrap Up Questions:
- What was most surprising about the band returns?
- What patterns were indicated by these returns?
- How do you think this information is used by wildlife refuges?