Jim Dubovsky is the Central Flyway representative in the Division of Migratory Bird Management. Hunters have always been important to conservation, and Jim explains how they team up with biologists in a wingbee.
|A mixed flock of ducks takes off from a wetland. Photo by Gary Kramer/USFWS|
For the past quarter century, Flint Hills National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Kansas has played a pivotal role in keeping track of migratory waterfowl species across the nation’s midsection. Since 1992, the refuge has hosted the Central Flyway Wingbee, a waterfowl-monitoring effort coordinated by our Migratory Bird Program.
|Gadwall wing with envelope. Photo by Jim Dubovsky/USFWS|
A wingbee combines the eyes, ears and conservation ethic of hunters with the scientific expertise of wildlife biologists to assess the status and harvests of North American waterfowl. Wingbees are conducted in each of the four U.S. migratory bird flyways: Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific.
The U.S. portion of the Central Flyway stretches from Montana and North Dakota southward to New Mexico and Texas. Here, briefly, is how the Central Flyway Wingbee works.
The Migratory Bird Program asks hunters how many ducks and geese they shot during the most recent waterfowl hunting season. In addition, selected hunters are asked to send to a central location one wing from each duck they harvest, and the tail feathers and wingtips of each goose they harvest. From those waterfowl parts, and using waterfowl wing and tail-fan keys for guidance, biologists can determine the species, sex and age of each duck and species and age of each goose harvested.
Hunters from states in the Central Flyway send their wings and tails to the post office in Hartford, Kansas, where they are retrieved by Flint Hills Refuge biological technician Lyle Hancock. Lyle opens each envelope to determine the species, writes the species on the envelope, and then places each envelope containing the part(s) in a walk-in freezer at the refuge, where they are stored until the hunting season ends.
|Biologists analyze waterfowl parts at the Central Flyway Wingbee. Photo by Jim Dubovsky/USFWS|
Each February, about 40 biologists from federal, state and other agencies and organizations gather at the refuge for a five-day wingbee to examine the duck wings and goose tail fans and wing tips. With the support of Refuge Manager Jack Bohannon and refuge biologist Tim Menard, the 40 biologists examine all the wings and tails. The data are entered into an electronic file for later summarization and analyses. Reports that result from these efforts are available on the Migratory Bird Program’s Hunting Activity & Harvest and Flyways pages.
|Lyle Hancock (left) accepts a plaque from Jim Dubovsky, as a thank-you to Flint Hills Refuge for 25 years hosting the Central Flyway Wingbee. Photo by Kammie Kruse/USFWS|
By classifying the species, sex and age of up to 20,000 wings and tails each year, biologists can determine Central Flyway hunters’ harvests of adults and young for both males and females for each species of duck, and adults and young for geese. This information is used in population models and other decision-making tools to determine the appropriate level of harvest for the continent’s waterfowl, ensuring abundant ducks and geese for hunting, wildlife observation and other recreational activities.
Lyle has handled every waterfowl part that has come through the wingbee since Flint Hills Refuge began hosting it, about 525,000 parts. The refuge’s partnership in this effort has been paramount in the Migratory Bird Program’s success at providing critical information for the management of waterfowl in the Central Flyway and beyond.