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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. Determine changes that may occur in harvests of various populations. This information is obtained by studying band recovery and/or harvest rates.
  3. 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.
  4. 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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Smoke and Heat; but a Fast Start to the 2018 Banding Season

Written by Mark Koneff


Every banding season is different, I guess that’s why it never gets boring. Just when you think you’ve got the birds figured out, they surprise you. This August has had its share of surprises already and we are only a week into the four week banding period.

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Over the past decade or so, we’ve struggled with a declining catch of mallards and large increases in our catch and bandings of blue-winged teal and cinnamon teal. Not that I have anything against teal, quite the contrary. These beautiful birds supply wonderful early season action to hunters across North America and fantastic viewing opportunities to the bird-watching community, but when it comes to regulation of harvest in the Pacific, Central, and Mississippi Flyways, mallards rule the roost and data on mallards is critical. Theories about the declining catch of mallards have abounded, but high on my list of plausible explanations has been an overall change in summer weather, with hot conditions prevailing late into August and a general lack of strong cold fronts during the month. These fronts and the cooler temperatures that follow help encourage birds to take interest in the bait grain we use at trap sites as they fuel up for the fall migration.

Certainly the fact that some of our traditional banding honey-holes…large wetlands/lakes important to molting and staging waterfowl, have simply been too wet for too long (leading to a decline in wetland productivity), and an abundance of water on the landscape (which distributes birds widely instead of concentrating them), has contributed to declining catch, but the prolonged summer heat seemed a more likely explanation for the reduced interest of mallards in bait grain at banding sites and the reduction in catch. This year the season began during a period of heat across the Canadian prairies that set some regional daily high temperature records. Yet, despite the heat, many of our stations are reporting a fast start, with large numbers of mallards on bait and in traps almost as soon as trap sites are established.

As far as late-summer habitat conditions go, an overall drying trend is apparent across the southern grasslands. Areas in southern SK that were dry in May during the breeding population survey remain dry and other areas of the grasslands that still held good water in May are showing signs of drawdown in August. Many areas of the parklands, however, continue to hold considerable residual water with many basins still flooded well outside their normal margins.

We’ve had a couple of unwelcome surprises as well. Large forest fires burning in British Columbia and the western U.S. have blanketed the southern prairies in a thick smoke layer, which has affected our ability to fly. A second unwelcome surprise was the theft of a government truck and attached trailer and airboat the evening before we were to send all crews into the field to start the season. That was a first, as far as I’m aware, in the over half century of operation of the banding program in western Canada and very uncharacteristic from the typical warm welcome we receive from our Canadian brethren. Thankfully, we were able to quickly recover the truck, boat, and trailer with only minor damage, and while we did lose some gear, we were able to regroup and get the banding crew and equipment to their station after only a short delay.

Over the coming weeks, our various stations will be submitting reports on conditions and their observations as they are able given the demands of long-days in the field…so check back again.

Dry basins in southern Saskatchewan grasslands, August 2018 (M. Koneff, USFWS)
Trevor Niditchi and Antoine Horassi clearing a trapping site.  Photo Credit: Steve Olson.

Basins drawing down south of Saskatoon, SK, August 2018 (M. Koneff, USFWS)
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.

Flooded parkland basin in north-central Alberta, August 2018 (M. Koneff, USFWS)
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.

Reduced visibility from the cockpit due to smoke from forest fires, August 2018 (M. Koneff, USFWS)
 Willow Lake crew releasing the last birds of the season.  Photo Credit: Steve Olson.

A beautiful blue sky above the dense smoke layer blanketing southern Saskatchewan, August 2018 (M. Koneff)
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.

Launching an airboart banding crew at a northern Saskatchewan site after a rocky start, August 2018 (M. Koneff)
 Willow Lake crew releasing the last birds of the season.  Photo Credit: Steve Olson.

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Last Updated: August 16, 2018