A wood duck banding project was recently completed at Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge. It was a cooperative effort through the Arkansas Game and Fish and U.S. Fish and Wildlife and volunteers.
Working on the joint project were James Foster and Kent Wagner with the Arkansas Game and Fish and Big Lake Refuge Manager Jeremy Bennett and biological technician Aaron Mize. Assisting in the project were Dr. Jim Bednarz and students from the Arkansas State University animal ecology class.
Mize said the ducks are usually trapped with rocket nets but the nets were not as successful this year as in years past. A swimming trap was used. Neither of the methods harms the birds.
This year's quota was 187 ducks. The quotas are broken down into target birds in age and sex.
"You can't just band the first 187 ducks you capture," Mize said.
Bennett said Big Lake typically bands more wood ducks than other refuges in the state but this year the numbers fell short.
"We are appreciative of our volunteers that helped with the duck banding, as well as all other projects at Big Lake," Bennett said. "We are also glad to have the ASU students assist. It gives the students a hands-on experience out of the classroom."
Bird banding data is useful in both research and management projects. Individual identification of birds makes possible studies of dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, life-span and survival rate, reproductive success and population growth.
Wood ducks are an important game bird in the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways. Because they spend most of their time in wooded habitats, breeding ground and winter surveys do not reflect wood duck populations. Therefore, it is essential that an annual banding program be conducted to determine band reporting rates, harvest rates, and survival rates for wood ducks.
"A lot of our birds are recovered all up and down the Mississippi Flyway," Bennett said. "Some move a little south as far as Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Tennessee but some will stay here year round."
The banding data is sent to a central site like the Bird Banding Laboratory. When banded birds are captured, released alive and reported from somewhere else, the movements of the individual bird can be tracked.
Through the banding project information has been gathered on some species that go south in one pathway and return north by another pathway. Nesting and wintering grounds have been located for some species, and specific nesting grounds have been connected to specific wintering areas.
Some researchers are using satellite transmitters on birds which allow the researcher to track the bird anywhere.
An analysis of banding information from game birds is essential for hunting regulations development and for detecting changes in waterfowl populations. Banding data can be used to assess the hunting pressure, estimate productivity and survival, and measure the vulnerability of the age/sex classes to hunting pressure.
"When a banded duck is harvested it is important for the hunter to report the information by calling 1-800-327-BAND (2263)," Bennett said. "They can keep the band."