Banded Ducks and Geese | Waterfowl Hunter’s Trophy & Biologist’s Tool By Chris McLeland, Professional Waterfowl and Wetlands Biologist In the world of waterfowl, the banded duck or geese is without a doubt the most coveted and rarest trophy there is. Much like a large whitetail buck would be in the world of deer hunting; banded waterfowl hold a special place in the hearts of duck and goose hunters across the Country. While these amazing trophies fill the dreams of waterfowl hunters each and every year, the information collected by harvesting these ducks and geese provide crucial information to biologists that help keep the waterfowl populations thriving. Waterfowl hunters are an amazing group of outdoorsmen and women that transcend race, religion, and unite us all around the world of waterfowl conservation and hunting. The love for the species of waterfowl result in countless hours spent in the field chasing ducks and geese, along with millions of dollars raised for wetland conservation and waterfowl conservation each and every year. Waterfowl hunting brings with it a rich heritage and culture that is so magnetic, interesting, and exciting that it tends to only take one trip to the marsh to hook a new waterfowl hunter for life. There are many nuances and traditions that involve the sport of waterfowl hunting that it is hard to not fall in love with sport. Whether it is the effort of setting out that perfect spread of Hard Core decoys, the art of calling waterfowl, hours spent camouflaging the blind or boat, watching the dog retrieve, or just simply the smell of the outdoors in the fall accompanied by a hint of fried bacon and black coffee hitting the marsh each and every fall means something a little different to everyone. Regardless if its time spent in the blind with friends and family or the sight of greenheads working the duck decoys, there is one facet of waterfowl hunting that unites all waterfowl hunters, and that is the elusive banded bird. Often seen as the unicorn of the waterfowl world, those who have been fortunate enough to pull the trigger on the Berretta and drop and banded duck or goose in the spread of Hard Core decoys will never forget it. In fact, those waterfowl hunters who have been fortunate enough to collect multiple bands over the course of the years can almost always recall the exact date, time and location where the harvest the bird that carried each and every band on their lanyard. Finding yourself holding a banded duck or goose is a very special experience that will excite even the most seasoned waterfowl hunter. More than Metal – A Conservation Tool While banded waterfowl are a true trophy no matter how you slice it, for a waterfowl and wetland biologist’s they are a critical conservation tool with the information provided by the hunters who collect these trophies provides irreplaceable information that aids biologists in making management decisions for the betterment and future management of waterfowl across North America and Canada. Each year, tens of thousands of waterfowl are leg banded each every year with some even receiving neck collars and tarsus bands as well. From the artic breeding grounds through the prairie potholes of the Missouri Coteau, all the way to Gulf Coast, from east to west and from north to south ducks, geese and even a wide range of non-game migratory species will be collected and banded this year. Thanks do largely in part to Federal and State fish and game agencies, as well as NGO groups such as Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl, there will be plenty of waterfowl banded this coming spring and summer. This is due to the efforts made by agency staff as well as a wide range of citizen volunteers who will give up their precious time to assist with the banding efforts with next count surveys and other efforts related to waterfowl conservation. What do bands tell us? For some, a small band of metal may not seem as very powerful management tool, however that assumption couldn’t be any further from the truth. Hunter collected waterfowl or “returns” as they are often referred to in agency talk, provide a wide range of information that biologists use each and every year. The most obvious piece of information that the collection of a banded bird will provide to a biologist is simply the collection location and date. This information is very important in terms of fly way management. What this information help biologist monitor is the migration paths of waterfowl from specific nesting grounds to their wintering grounds. This is important in terms of understanding the distribution of waterfowl across all of the flyways across North America and Canada. Additionally, understand the date of collection can also help in terms of extrapolating what age distribution of harvest may be from year to year. So why is this information important? For state fish and game agencies, it is easy to manage for non-migratory species that have established populations within the boundaries of their state. Management becomes significantly more difficult when you are dealing with a species that will eventually leave the confines of your state. Organization and cooperation among multiple state fish and game agencies as well as federal agencies and NGO’s are critical to the success of the management effort. Understanding where ducks and geese spend the majority of their time during the fall and spring migration is critical to conserving the species. Bands of a different color Without a doubt the most popular and most well-known type of waterfowl band in the leg band. Typically, ducks and geese are banded with a single leg band with the band being placed on the left or right leg depending on the sex of the bird. Occasionally, these birds will also be accompanied by a “double band” which will be a reward band. These bands are used to incentive hunter reporting of the band and can range anywhere from $10.00 all the way up to $100.00 and in some rare cases, even higher. Reward bands are used when data is needed for waterfowl from a specific area. Double banded birds are even rarer than your typical banded bird and are a very special collection for the hunters that are able to collect one. In addition to your “typical” leg band, there are a couple of other options available to biologists to help them ascertain specific information that will help them better manage a particular sub-species or sub-population of waterfowl, the neck collar and tarsus bands. These two types of bands are really spectacular in terms of their appearance. Made of a durable plastic material that is typically glued with applied these bands serve a very specific purpose in terms of waterfowl management, which is really quite simple. These bands are very visible and easy to see. Often made with bright colors such as red, yellow, blue, green, orange and even black or white these management aids help biologists when making observations associated to specific individuals or breeding pairs that belong to a specific group of waterfowl form a very specific location. Typically places on large ducks and geese, these bands allow biologists through the assistance of a spotting scope to be able to make long range observations of these animals while on the breeding grounds or nesting as part of their annual monitoring process. Neck collars and tarsus bands are almost always accompanied by a standard Federal leg band. While it is true that these bands can sometimes be easier to spot while hunting (imagine the site of a red neck collar on a snow goose), they are not as easy to spot as one might think, and were certainly not necessarily designed that why with the hunter in mind, more so the biologist. Why report? When waterfowl hunters think of a duck or goose band, the norm is to imagine that big ole’ green headed mallard or a Giant Canada Goose however the truth is that each and every year biologists will place jewelry on everything from Canada geese to mallards, shovlers, teal, widgeon, pintails, gadwall, eiders, wood ducks, even cranes and swans. The fact is, there are a lot of bands floating around out there on many different species and each recovery record is important. Luckily, hunter reports are increasing each and every year. At one time it would take a few weeks to receive the report of their harvest, causing waterfowl hunters to anxiously wait by their mailboxes like a kid waits for Santa Clause on Christmas Eve, causing some waterfowl hunters to make the decision to not report their bands collections. Other reasons for not reporting are wide, however, thanks largely in part to outreach efforts from groups like Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl Association along with state and federal fish and game agencies along with a little help from technology, more and more hunters are providing biologists valuable. Today, waterfowl hunters can get their band recovery information instantaneously by reporting the band on the bird band recovery website that is maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The world of waterfowl hunting is a world rich with heritage and tradition and lying amongst the collection images and items that reflect the waterfowl hunting of old is the leg band. While wooden duck and goose decoys have paved the way for high-tech molded decoys, wooded single barrel calls have been surpassed by acrylic calls of varying size and shape, and cotton long under ware and dark brown canvas coats have been replaced with Under Armor and Realtree Max-5 camo, the image of the leg band remains unchanged. For as long as there are men and women that wake up with the Killer Instinct every morning to hit the water or the fields in search of waterfowl, the leg band will remain a constant reminder of where the birds and the sport of waterfowl have been, where it is today, and hopefully where it will be tomorrow. From the brink of oblivion to a thriving population of waterfowl for all of us to enjoy each fall, the leg band has helped us shape the world of waterfowl hunting. Young or old, the sport of waterfowl hunting holds a special place in our hearts. If you are lucky enough to find yourself holding a nice piece of waterfowl jewelry this fall, then consider yourself one of the few and lucky and take time to enjoy your trophy and a little piece of waterfowl management history and be sure to do your part to provide the biologists with the information they need. As you head out in search of waterfowl, be sure to take the time to reflect on what is important and what gets you excited about chasing waterfowl in the first place. If you do that, it will make accomplishments like harvesting a banded bird just that much sweeter!