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A Talk on the Wild Side.

How to Count, ID Waterfowl When You’re Flying

aerial observer website

Ever try to identify or count ducks when looking down at them while flying in a plane at 100 mph?  If you’re a biologist who’s conducted aerial waterfowl surveys, you know how tough it is.  Although wildlife managers routinely conduct aerial waterbird surveys to measure status, no comprehensive training tools have existed to improve species identification and establish quantifiable standards for aerial observers.  Until now.

Two products are now available to help in training aerial observers – a field guide, using still photos, and a website that employs high-definition video, still photos and interactive testing features. 

The field guide, Aerial Observers Guide to North American Waterfowl, is intended more for in-flight use to help improve skills in waterfowl identification.  It covers all species of North American waterfowl highlighting distinguishing characteristics and flight patterns. 

The website includes online training and testing tools for species identification and counting that simulate the visual experience of aerial surveys.  To obtain the videos for this training, Service biologist Tim Bowman worked with videographers to acquire geographically comprehensive aerial footage of waterfowl species throughout North America.  Video footage was obtained using an ultra-stabilized camera system mounted on the nose of a helicopter (the  same technology used in the Planet Earth series).  

Taken together, these two components represent a user-friendly program to help standardize training for species identification and flock estimation.   It’s a creative solution to a decades-old challenge for aerial observers and is intended to promote more reliable and defensible aerial survey data. 


Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The fall issue is due out in mid-October.

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