Ducks

“When done under the rules of good sportsmanship, duck hunting is a culmination of art, skill and scientific endeavor. It is also an act of love, for who loves the birds more than the hunter?”  –Bob Hinman, The Duck Hunter’s Handbook, 1974

The main actors, Mallards.
The main actors, Mallards.

General discussion on various ducks will be here.

Many people like ducks, ducks of all kinds. They are fascinating to watch. But sometimes they can be a problem. In Canada, farmers can not harvest their crops timely due to rainy, wet conditions and ducks will feed in the fields and will knock off a lot of the grain. This loose grain will be unavailable for harvest.

In urban situations, the poop of ducks and geese can be annoying. While grass grazing, they may poop on sidewalks, golf courses or, in Missoula, use runners tract fields.  “I noticed the other day that there were ducks sitting on the track because there was so much water from the snow melt” offered Eve Dunn-Froebig, Executive director of Run Wild Missoula in the March 25th edition of the Missoulian.

BIRD BANDS

Numbered bands are placed on the legs, and sometimes necks, of migratory birds for the collection of biological information. Breeding and wintering habitats can be determined. If enough birds of known age and sex are banded, and collected, reproductive rates can be determined. During the past 100 years, millions of birds have been banded. Through 2007, about 13 million ducks have been banded, including about 7 million mallards. About 85,000 to 90,000 band numbers are reported each year. The most meaningful data can be obtained if large numbers of bands are returned. Consequently the most studied band results come from ducks and geese that are harvested whereby sport hunters report the numbers. During my 52-year career as a wildlife biologist, I have banded thousands of ducks and hundreds of morning doves.

Bands from a black brant
Bands from a black brant

I am also a hunter. I started hunting when I was 10 in 1951, and shot my first duck in 1953, a green-winged teal. I do a lot of waterfowl hunting; it is my passion and what I live for. I have shot lots of ducks and geese and subsequently collected a fair number of bird bands. Several have interesting stories.

There are many interesting potential scenarios when collecting bird bands. Shooting birds with consecutive band numbers could be likely if hunting Canada geese as they often travel in family groups, which could have been caught and banded at the same time. Other scenarios would be shooting two consecutive birds, both banded and shooting one bird with 2 bands, one regular and/or one reward or plastic on the other leg (or neck).   Some bands have been on birds so long their numbers cannot be read. Those can be etched to discern the numbers. Some banded bird reveal weird migration patterns. I have a few stories on several of these scenarios.

Three times have I shot two consecutive ducks, each banded. In 1999, I was hunting on January 7th with friend Bill on the Flathead River north of Missoula, Montana. I had shot 5 greenhead mallards toward my 7-bird limit. Many birds wanted to land 150 yards upstream from where we had our decoys. I picked up 5 or 6 decoys and moved to that spot. It was getting later in the afternoon. I had a small bunch of mallards decoy and the two best shots presented where hens, which I normally don’t shoot. But that afternoon I did. When I picked up the first hen, it was banded. Excellent I thought. When I picked up the second, what a surprise, it was banded too. One was banded in August 1997 (2387-32598), and the other was banded in August 1998 (2437-78274), both from the same banding area.   Since they were flying together, I wondered if the older hen could have been the mom of the younger one? Interesting to ponder.

Again I was hunting with friend Bill about 12 miles upstream of Paradise, Montana on the Flathead River on December 5th, 2004. I shot a limit of 7 greenheads, and two consecutive birds shot were banded (1737-02370 and 1597-72929). Both were banded at the Ninepipes National Wildlife Refuge, #70 in August 2004 and #29 in August of 2002. I was assisting refuge personnel band ducks on the refuge those years so I might have banded these birds.

My third take of consecutive birds banded was on September 25th, 2008. I was hunting with friend Jim on a Ducks Unlimited wetland three miles east of Enchant, Alberta, Canada and shot banded greenheads. One bird was banded near by, within 18 miles, while the other was banded in Alberta, 460 miles northwest of this marsh. Number 1717-43125 was banded in August 2004 while number 1827-68027 was banded in August 2008 near where it was shot. I had a hard time hitting birds today, shot 26 shells. But I bagged 8 mallards and a Canada goose.

Birds are usually banded with aluminum bands. If birds mostly use salt-water habitats, the Fish and Wildlife Service will use steel bands. In September 2009, I shot a black brant with a steel band (#1767-25295). It was banded 1,250 miles north in July 2007 on the north shore of Alaska near the Beaufort Sea. It also had a green plastic band on the other leg with 9Z on it(Photo above). I got it on the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge about 10 miles northwest of Cold Bay, Alaska. Friend Wayne was on this trip with me.

Reward(GREEN) bands are relatively new with waterfowl banding management. A big question is what percentage of bands harvested are actually reported by hunters? Offering a reward is thought to entice hunters to more faithfully turn in bands. Getting a bird with a reward band is a gold star day for any hunter. I have been fortunate to get three.

 A GREEN REWARD BAND

A GREEN REWARD BAND

My first reward band was taken near Dixon, Montana on the Flathead River. The male mallard was shot January 13th, 2000 (#1637-01531). It was banded near Flaxcombe, Saskatchewan in August 1999. The reward to turn it in was $100. I dropped 3 greenheads out of the flock that decoyed. When I picked up the first bird, I noticed it was double banded, but as the other birds were going down current, I rushed to my boat to go retrieve them. When I returned to the blind and checked the first bird I was surprised to see 100 on the green reward band. In my career, I have worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and know how cheap they are, so I figured they were offering a dollar to turn in the band. I was really surprised when I called and the lady said it was a $100.00 dollar band! A gold star day for sure!!! I used the money to buy the book “Waterfowl Ecology and Management”.

The second reward band (1647-83085) was taken on November 1, 2004 on the Flathead River 4 miles west of Moiese, Montana. The greenhead was banded near Tilley Alberta in August 2002. The reward was $30.00.

The last reward band was for $50.00 and was shot September 25th, 2007. I was hunting 10 miles south of Skiff, Alberta. The bird was banded at Cassils, Alberta, about 85 miles north. The number was 1797-26367.

In November 2009, I shot a greenhead with a band so worn I could read only one number. The Service had to etch the band to get the number, which was (1677-00901). It was banded at the Ninepipes NWR in August 2005 and again I was helping refuge personnel band so I might have banded this duck. Many bands stay on bird for more than 4 years and are readable. I wonder what corrosive waters this bird had been using to erode the numbers so badly?

Another band of interest I shot was a bird of unusual migration. The male mallard was banded in September 2004 as a young bird in Mitchell Bay Ontario, Canada. I shot the bird in October 20, 2006 three miles east of Enchant, Alberta, 1,450 miles to the west of the banding point. I suspect the bird migrated south in 2004 and/or 2005, and on the wintering grounds, met a beautiful hen of prairie Canada origin and followed her back to her Alberta nesting area. He and I met there!  He wore Band number 1657-94104.

I find birds interesting. Banded birds can tell fascinating stories. And they can yield valuable biological data that helps us understand and more wisely conserve them. I hope to collect many more!

From the Waterfowler’s Lodge overlooking the beautiful Clark Fork valley

James F. Gore:   July 5, 2012

Stories of all kinds may be told.
Stories of all kinds may be told.

“If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes”.—-Charles A. Lindbergh

 

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