Waterfowl Banding Blog
The Western Canada Cooperative Waterfowl Banding Program (WCCWBP)
WCCWBP is a long-term, large- scale pre-season waterfowl banding program. The program is a joint effort between the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), state and provincial wildlife management agencies, the Flyway Councils, First Nations, and non- governmental waterfowl advocacy and research organizations.
Every year ducks are banded throughout North America, with increased efforts in the prairie-pothole regions of the United States and Canada. This cooperative effort has been ongoing since the early 1950s. WCCWBP banding data have increased our knowledge of waterfowl population dynamics and helped inform management decisions. Banding and recovery data are a critical input for the annual Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) process.
Below are detailed accounts from crew leaders out in the field that band in Canada during the month of August each year. This effort consists of eight USFWS- run banding stations throughout the provinces of Manitoba (MB), Saskatchewan (SK), Alberta (AB) and the Northwest Territories (NT) and one Mississippi Flyway- run banding station located in Saskatchewan. All efforts are made to satisfy the banding needs presented in the draft 2013 Banding Needs Assessment. The overall objectives of the banding program are:
- Determine the distribution of harvest of birds from various breeding and to define the breeding source of birds harvested in a specific area. This information is developed from band recovery data.
- Determine changes that may occur in harvests of various populations. This information is obtained by studying band recovery and/or harvest rates.
- Determine a measure of productivity of breeding populations. This information is developed by adjusting age ratios in wing survey data by the relative vulnerability of juveniles and adults from preseason band recovery information.
- Determine annual or long-term survival rates of specific populations. This information is obtained by analyzing band recoveries accumulated over a period of years.
The text above was taken from the following report: Yates, S.F. 2014. Western Canada Cooperative Banding Program-Final Report 2014. USFWS. 116 pages.
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Twenty-year Duck Banding Operation
Written by Steve Olson
Willow Lake, Northwest Territories
This was my third crew-leading mission, continuing a twenty-year duck banding operation at Willow Lake, Northwest Territories, Canada. This location is the furthest north (290 miles south of the Arctic Ocean and 53 miles west of Great Bear Lake) of all duck banding stations, and arguably the most remote. The two closest towns (Norman Wells and Tulita) are not accessible from a paved road in non-winter months, and Willow Lake is only accessible by jet boat or float plane.
The Willow Lake banding station has traditionally been run by waterfowl biologists from the Service and the Territorial Environment and Natural Resources Office, who hire banding technicians from the local village of Tulita. This cooperation has forged a connection of two very different worlds. This is what makes Willow Lake unique; an opportunity for both entities to live with and learn from each other, all while trapping and banding ducks. This year, my banding technicians from Tulita were Antoine Horassi and Trevor Niditchie. Both had literally grown up in the bush on the Great Bear River and near Tsigachic. Willow Lake, residing along the Loche River in the Mackenzie River Valley and Sahtu Settlement area of the Northwest Territories has a long history of hunting, including waterfowl hunting. So much so, that some of the “Willow Lake People” had settled on the north end of Willow Lake hundreds of years ago because of the area’s abundance of game and fish. The navigable waters enabled them to reach other settlements such as Tulita and beyond. In those days, Tulita was the natural rendezvous location for the Willow Lake, Mackenzie River, and Mountain People. The settlement at the north end of Willow Lake is appropriately called “Willow Lake”, and cabins still exist. Most of the original cabins are gone, but newer, up-to-date cabins with internet, cell phone boosters, and satellite televisions are rumored to be increasingly common. A church Bern Will Brown built is also no longer standing. Currently, there are no year-round residents at Willow Lake, but many make trips from Tulita in the spring for waterfowl hunting, and in the fall and early winter for trapping, fishing, and moose hunting.
We worked our tails off and banded a total of 1,200 ducks, including an all-time station record 546 green-winged teal, 508 mallard, seventy-five northern pintail, thirty-eight blue-winged teal, and thrity-three American Wigeon. The number of ducks caught in 2017 was 14% below the long-term average (1,401) at the Willow Lake Banding Site. As with any year, there are many factors that affect species composition and totals. We experienced the lowest water levels and more teal than I’ve seen at Willow Lake, and the two were possibly correlated. Low water levels did afford us the opportunity to trap a greater distance from the treeline and this made it harder for predators to find the traps, which was a positive factor. Negative factors include record-breaking heat for the first week of banding, and water being so low that we could not gain access to bays and shorelines where most mallards and pintails prefer to feed and loaf.
Our time banding in the bush is now over, but our experiences constantly fill my head and have me day-dreaming. Besides catching ducks, the fishing was phenomenal, and we caught as many pickerel, jack, and coney as we wanted when not working the marsh. I continued to learn a new culture, made friends for life, and have enough stories to fill the imagination of anyone who wishes, and I was able continue my experiences by living in the bush and learning local survival techniques.
Trevor Niditchi and Antoine Horassi clearing a trapping site. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
Antoine Horassi and Trevor Niditchie racing to get the catch box to the trap opening. Over 170 teal were in this trap. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
Antoine Horassi and Trevor Niditchie racing to get the catch box to the trap opening. Over 170 teal were in this trap. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
Willow Lake crew releasing the last birds of the season. Photo Credit: Steve Olson.
Great Time in the Marsh
Written by Dave Fronczak
Mills Lake, Northwest Territories
Despite fairly warm temperatures and one significant low-pressure system which forced us to close traps for a night, 1,766 ducks and 1 American coot were banded during the waterfowl banding operation at Mills Lake, Northwest Territories.
Similar to last year, mallards (67%; n = 1179) composed the majority of ducks with 1,179. Additionally, we banded 547 northern pintail, thirty-nine American green-winged teal, and one American wigeon. This was the 4 th year in a row that our pintail catch was under 1,000, which may be due to being short-stopped into settling in the prairies, as seen in 2014 & 2015. In 2016, the decline in pintail catch was most likely reversed with an overflight further north due to drier conditions throughout their southern breeding grounds. The proportion of young to adults for mallards totaled 66% and for pintails the proportion was15%, which gave indication that this was good mallard production for those who settled in the northern boreal and pintails most likely nested in the prairies. Forty-three ducks previously banded at Mills Lake were also captured.
As always, we had a great time in the marsh. This year was even better than the last 2 years due to higher water levels, which allowed us to operate well into the marsh and provided solid ground to wrangle ducks into the catch cage. We trapped over a 16 day period from August 11 to August 28. In the beginning the number of waterfowl banded was fairly low, most likely due to low number of mallard and pintail and/or competition with an abundance of emergent vegetation. However, the amount of birds caught steadily increased and then fluctuated throughout the month. Nothing really significant happened around camp this year, except for a curious young black bear that decided to use our jerry cans and water cans, our screen door, and one of our bander’s hip boot as chew toys. Thankfully, none of those things were really tasty so he eventually moved on (well with a little encouragement from a thirteen year old bear-chasing Labrador). As always, we thank the community of Ft. Providence for their logistical support and comradery during the month. Also would like to thank my fellow crew members Joe Sands and Tony Roberts for a safe and successful trip.
Home for a Rest
Written by Landon Eskridge
Big Grass, Manitoba
For me, chasing waterfowl in Canada has always been a dream, whether it’s supporting conservation through hunting or through the Western Canada Cooperative Waterfowl Banding Program. So when I got the news that I was going to Big Grass Marsh I was ecstatic.
Coming from the deserts of New Mexico to Plumas, Manitoba was a huge change. First of all, there is so much history at Big Grass Marsh being the first Ducks Unlimited project and Duck Factory #1. Second, Manitoba offers so many opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts and has so much diversity in landscape, from agriculture, to mountains, to thick timberland and wetlands. Upon our arrival in Plumas we met the outfitter we would be staying with, Gator--an older gentleman with a fiery rebel spirit and a true appreciation for the marsh.
The first few days we were there were mostly baiting scouted sites, setting traps, and trying to find access to known hot spots with low water levels. Due to the dry year, it made it very tough getting to some places with an airboat; and no four wheelers for the first few weeks meant we were dragging in traps in by ourselves down cattail-walled trails to some sites. Although it was a dry year the birds still persisted and had good nesting success--every time we came around a corner in the marsh, birds filled the air, giving us hope and anticipation for full traps.
The first day we set traps we caught fourteen ducks and it only got better from there. With traps growing fuller by the day the talk of banding 2,000 birds seemed like it could come true, and it did. The majority of the birds we were catching were mallards and blue-winged teal. However, we did end up with a few American black ducks, pintails, wood ducks, and red heads to name a few. We got to work with Canadian Wildlife Service, as well as many people from USFWS from all over the country. I have learned so much within this month like what kinds of invertebrates waterfowl eat during molt, marsh bird ID, and feather complexity. Sadly, we are starting to wrap things up now: pack up traps, pull out boats, and wash gear up. Overall this month was a great adventure and a great experience. The knowledge and experience I gained will defiantly help my career grow.
Big Grass crew at work
Hot and Dry
Written by Sarah Yates
This has been a very hot and dry year at the Brooks, Alberta banding station. In fact, the Brooks area has received little to no precipitation the last 60 days and is well-below average for the growing season.
Despite this, waterfowl are plentiful in the region with mallards, blue-wing teal, American wigeon, and northern pintail dominating the flocks of birds we’ve seen flying among the wetlands. The phenology seems to be quite advanced compared with last year and the waterfowl are a lot more concentrated on the few waterbodies that remain. The concentration of waterfowl on the few available wetlands has worked in our favor, making it easier to attract the birds to the bait and into our swim-in traps.
We’ve been working hard banding over 100 birds a day for almost the entire month (which for Brooks is quite good), moving traps as needed, repairing traps as well as ourselves (duck banding is hard work!). If things keep up the next few days we may band over 1000 new mallards and top 2500 birds banded total. The days can be long and hot and we’ve been so lucky to have a highly competent crew including Heidi Hanlon, Wildlife Biologist, from the Cape May and Supawna Meadows NWR in New Jersey, Jacob Gross, Wildlife Refuge Specialist, from the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee NWR in Mississippi, and Kassidy Klingler, a volunteer and student at Penn State. Every year we get USFWS personnel from every region that choose to participate in the Western Canada Cooperative Banding Program, and we’ve recently started acquiring volunteer undergraduate students from universities across the country.
A lot of the banders come with extensive experience doing field work from their own duty station and are full of great ideas and techniques while others are here to gain that valuable wildlife field experience they currently lack. Whether highly experienced or new to field work I’ve found that everyone contributes something important to the crew dynamic and I’m so thankful for the hard work and dedication the Brooks crew showed this year…my most successful year at Brooks so far!
Setting up a swim-trap
We’ve caught more northern pintails than usual this year. An adult male northern pintail is shown on the left and an immature (or hatch year) male pintail is shown on the right.
This adult male Cinnamon teal is a great catch!
Here is a hatch-year (juvenile) male cinnamon teal. The red eye is not present yet but will emerge as the season progresses- as will his plumage.
Pinehouse Banding Station
Written by Garrett Wilkerson
The Pinehouse banding station, located in northern Saskatchewan, is now in its 3rd year of operation. The crew arrived on August 1 to record-high water levels (the highest in at least 50 years).
Historical trapping sites are now under an extra 6 feet of water. We spent a few days looking for concentrations of ducks and areas that could be trapped. While we were successful in locating high concentrations of waterfowl, we had to settle for constructing traps on top of floating mats of vegetation, rather than using traditional methods. This creates many challenges, as we are unable to step right out of the boat to set traps or retrieve our captured ducks. The crew was forced to get creative, and we decided to cut some leftover wire to place on top of the floating vegetation mats. These wire squares allow the crew to step out onto the mats by distributing weight over a greater surface area, therefore keeping us from punching through the mats. We are operating up to nineteen traps per day, but we are not having great success in catching large numbers of ducks in the challenging conditions. We have observed many more young broods of all the present dabbling and diving species than in normal years. The crew hypothesizes that the late spring rising of the water levels resulted in many nests being destroyed, resulting in ducks re-nesting in summer. Outside of banding the crew has been fortunate enough to see many other wildlife species, including black bears, bald eagles, red crossbills, American three-toed woodpeckers, many shorebird species, a trumpeter swan, and much more. The northern lights have also been spectacular on many nights, with their many colors dancing across the night sky. With less than a week to go, we hope some cooler weather finally encourages a few more ducks to get into our traps. For now we are thankful that we’ve had a safe month and look forward to reuniting with family and friends in another week.
Photos by Heidi Hanlon/USFWS
Setting a trap from the airboat in deeper than normal water.
Using "Pinehouse shoes" to set a trap in the marsh. Water levels were 6 feet higher than 2016 water levels forcing banders to set traps on top of floating vegetation. Wire squares were used to distribute weight and allowed banders to stand on the floating vegetation during trap set up.
The banding camp.