Friday, February 1, 2013

More than just metal: Banding provides essential information

What’s in a band?

We’re not talking about musical geniuses that sing and play in harmony, but referring to the Service’s black duck banding efforts. For decades, national wildlife refuges have worked with state partners to band and monitor black ducks. This important effort helps establish hunting seasons that maintain a healthy number of ducks within their habitat.

Black duck at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland.
Credit: Scott Nielson/USFWS

“Banding has proven to be one of the most important tools for monitoring migratory birds,” says Pat Devers, the Service’s science coordinator for the Black Duck Joint Venture.

Once the most abundant freshwater duck in eastern North America, the black duck population declined steadily for three decades and reached an all-time low in the 1980s. To identify the important factors for this change, the Black Duck Joint Venture was formed in 1989, a conservation partnership among the Service and other international, state, and local conservation agencies with the ultimate goal of ensuring the security of the black duck throughout its range.

When black ducks are banded, the band
has a unique ID number so that if the
duck is ever recovered, biologists can
learn more about their migration
patterns and population.
Credit: USFWS
Black ducks breed in a variety of North American wetlands throughout mixed and hardwood boreal forests and salt marshes. The birds begin to head south from the coastal marshes in Nova Scotia down to the mid-Atlantic states beginning in early September to October. They begin nesting in February in southern parts of their range, but often not until late May in northern parts.

A number of national wildlife refuges band and monitor black ducks in the winter and summer, which is before and after the hunting season. The process involves:

• carefully capturing the ducks
• attaching numbered metal bands to their legs
• and finally releasing them

When the banded ducks are recovered and the band numbers are reported by hunters or other banders, it provides data that allows scientists to measure black duck survival rates. When combined with data from summer-banded black ducks, scientists can not only determine the annual mortality rate of black ducks, but also tell during what season the mortality occurred. This provides critical information for black duck population managers, including how the ducks are responding to management practices.

“We couldn’t do it without the refuges, since that is where the ducks are. Refuges always lend personnel and time,” says Devers about the work national wildlife refuges have invested in black duck monitoring.

And this provides a lot to celebrate. In current years, national wildlife refuges have been recognized for their contributions to monitoring black ducks. Recently, the Service’s Northeast Division of Migratory Birds recognized Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge for their banding efforts with the state of New Jersey. In 2010 and 2011, the division acknowledged Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge and the state of New York for their banding efforts. Both refuges were established to conserve habitat for migratory birds, like the black duck.

And there’s more: Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine banded their 10,000th black duck last February after getting started in the late 1940s!

Now that’s something to sing about, no wonder these birds get to be in bands!

Click here to read a news article about black duck banding.

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