Monday, December 12, 2011

Just ducky, thank you!

'Tis the season...
We had a good snow a few days ago that put us up to nearly a third of our average yearly precipitation, yay!! However, the relentless cold that accompanied the front has most of the waterways on the refuge frozen, severely reducing our A+ rating among migrating waterfowl. Already our duck count is down, waaaaay down.

M, B-Dawg and I haven't had the time to duck hunt this season so the prospect of no duck gumbo this winter darkened my thoughts as I drove home from the bi-weekly waterfowl count. I was watching the still-icy road rather carefully when something in my peripheral vision caught my attention... that stubble field was not a pristine white landscape, there were odd brown bumps all over it! I slowed down, grabbed the camera and did a u-turn as soon as it was safe, knowing -- Oh Joy!-- what I would find...

wigeon with pintails slumming off-refuge

Although I haven't been hunting yet, I've had more than few ducks in hand over the last few weeks. My local refuge's biologist (BioJefe) participates in the North American Bird Banding project and this time of year it's all about the ducks. You know that highly prized 'jewelry' waterfowlers everywhere add to their lanyards? This is how it gets there...

BioJefe & BioJ  remove duck from trap

talk sweetly to the mallard hen

'with this ring, I thee... tag in the name of science!'

While we have the ducks in hand, a few non-invasive* measurements are taken...

weighing a female bufflehead
measuring a mallard hen's culmen**

We also take wing, tarsus, and head measurements, and determine whether the bird is an adult or juvenile. All data are reported to the Bird Banding Laboratory.

Occasionally we trap a duck that has been banded before -- a most spectacular drake Mallard banded at the same refuge in 2007 is the oldest one I've seen thus far -- and sometimes we get other waterfowl that are not subject to banding.

not a duck (BioB holds a pied-billed grebe)

What an education this has been, and continues to be! Some have asked, but I have no problem participating in this conservation and species management program and then eating a wonderful bowl of duck gumbo made with birds we harvested ourselves. Hunters and anglers support conservation in myriad ways: through the sale of licenses, tags, stamps, and equipment; donations; political action; countless hours in in the field, stream and ocean; and through groups like Duck Unlimited, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Coastal Conservation Association, just to name a few. Volunteering to help collect the scientific data that forms the basis for waterfowl management is just another way to help ensure their future. My reasons for hunting? Well, that's another post... although I'm pretty sure it's a form of AOH.

If you're lucky enough to bag a tagged duck or goose, or come across any bird with a band, don't forget to report it to You'll get an email or letter telling you what's known about your bird (here are some stories you might be able to top) and the data you submit makes you part of the citizen scientists that make this program a success. If you want to see the stats for banding efforts and recovery by species -- along with some fun trivia -- start here.

*That's right, Intrepid Reader, no ducks are harmed in the collection of this scientific data... although the drake Mallards might disagree based on the criteria for determining whether they are adults or juveniles. Sigh... you can't just take their word for it. 
** that's the top of her bill


  1. Great post! Very informative! (This is Trish, by the way...)

  2. Hey Trisha! Thank you! The banding is so much fun, I hope you all can come out for the rocket shot next week.