Duck Banding


I happened to see on our local evening news recently that area students were helping biologists at J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge band ducks.  Attaching leg bands to birds (bird banding) provides biologists with important information including their movements, longevity, and population size.

I can recall for example as a kid shooting a banded duck.  I mailed in the band number to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and received a certificate with information on when and where it was banded.  I have forgotten most of that information, but recall that it was banded somewhere in the Northwest Territories and was several years old.

Wildlife managers obviously need to know population sizes of game birds to determine bag limits and other regulations.  But how would you determine the population’s size?  For most game species an direct count is simply not possible.  So biologists have developed various sampling techniques to estimate population size, and bird banding is one of those techniques, and is an example of a “mark-recapture” technique.

In a mark-recapture technique such as bird banding, a sample is live captured, marked in some way such as attaching a leg band, and then released back into the population.  That is what the students were doing.  That establishes a certain ratio of banded ducks to un-banded ducks in the population.  After an appropriate interval, a second sampling is conducted to estimate that ratio and thus the population size.  In duck banding the second sampling is the hunting season when hunters bag some unbanded birds as well as some banded birds which is then reported to the Fish and Wildlife Service through surveys and/or the band returns.

A mathematical formula then can be used to estimate the population size.  As you might expect, errors can happen that can skew the estimate, for example if a hunter bags a duck but does not turn in the band number.  A variety of statistical models with various assumptions are used to obtain more precise estimates.

So as you observe or perhaps hunt the ducks or geese moving through our region this fall, keep in mind that wildlife managers are using a variety of techniques including banding to better understand and manage these populations.

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.


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