BANDS | Waterfowl Banded Birds by Chris McLeland They are the thing that some waterfowl hunters dream about. They are sometimes considered figments of the imagination, myths, just like big foot and the Loch Ness monster. I can assure they are very real, and they are also one of the best ways of providing useful data to waterfowl biologists across the continent; of course I am referring to bands! Every year, staff from multiple State and Federal agencies along with countless volunteers hit the field to begin capturing and banding waterfowl, and while it may sounds like all fun and games, there is a lot more to it than just slapping on a band. While waterfowl banding can take place at any time of year, the majority of the banding efforts take place during the late spring or early summer after broods have emerged and are large enough to support a leg band. Trapping methods can vary depending upon the target species or the site conditions. Once of the most popular methods, without question is cannon netting. This method involves using a bait site to attract the target species, and firing a large mesh net over the top of the flock once in range. While very affective and fun this method does pose some limitations. Another popular method is to deploy a swim in type trap. This method involves baiting a trap line, and having the waterfowl swim into the trap. So, once the birds have been captured, either by cannon net or swim in trap, now what? Once the birds are in hand, several biological factors are assessed. First, the bird is aged and determined to be male or female. All of this goes into the individual profile the biologist will be creating for each animal. The general health and condition of the animal is also assessed at this time. In some cases, certain samples can be taken to test for avian diseases. Once all of that has been completed, the band is then placed on the animal. As most waterfowl hunters are more than aware, there are many different types of bands. Standard leg bands, tarsus bands, reward bands and neck collars. What is the difference and why are certain birds banding with specific bands? Here is a quick rundown; we’ll start with the obvious first. Standard leg bands and used the most. They are durable, safe and can last for years. Occasionally, to encourage hunters to report specific animals, reward bands are also added to the opposite leg. This is referred to as “double banding”. With tarsus and neck collars, it gets a little more complicated. The advantage that both tarsus and neck collars have are their visibility. This aids the biologist when it comes to making observations of certain individuals in the field. This is very helpful when observing individuals especially on the breeding grounds. Ok, so we have millions of banded birds out there, what does that really mean? When the national bird banding program was initiated, the original intent was to determine waterfowl migration routes and over time, this lead biologist to determine the major flyways that we know today. Today, the bird band reports provide biologists the information they need to determine just how harvest is distributed or spread among each flyway. The number of harvest reports is obviously very important, but the lack of reports is as well. Understanding how many birds make it through the season is just as important as knowing how many were harvested. This enables biologist to determine survival rates. All in all, this information provides biologist the insight to estimate habitat conditions, reproduction and survival rates which all allows them to establish harvest regulations. Which if you’re a serious waterfowl hunter is something you have a vested interest in. Recently, we had the chance to do our part in tracking the waterfowl population. We found ourselves set up on a pasture pond, and the mission was to put down some mid-Missouri honkers. The spread was set, with Hard Core Elites and floaters and we knew that if they gave us a look it would be game over. We were lucky to be in this situation. Goose hunting had been getting very stale as of late. With some snow fall in Iowa a week ago, we did see a slight increase in goose numbers, but not as much as we had hoped for. Most of the birds we were hunting had been around for quite some time and they have seen every trick in the book at this point. We caught a break when we happened to stumble upon a large group of birds in an area that we had never spent a lot of time scouting or hunting. This area is largely timbered part of the county, so we had never really spent much time in the area. Apparently, no one else had either! Once we knew that there were birds in the area, we spent a couple of evenings scouting and found a pond where the birds seemed to loafing during the mid-day before heading out to feed right before dark. The birds started flying at first light, and when the first group cupped and committed without even missing a beat, we knew we were in the money. On this day, we had zero wind so having realistic decoys is the name of the game, and the elites got it done again. There were only two of us on this morning’s hunt, and for once I wish we would have had three more! The Hard Core elites had the birds finishing at ten yards! We were on the last group, needing two more birds to fill a two man limit. Two geese finished, we took em’ both, and wouldn't you know it, they were both banded! While there are many things that make a day afield a special time, it does put a little extra cherry on top when you can add a little jewelry to the lanyard!