Charles D. Evans reported in Flyways (see References) that his first plane to use on breeding duck surveys in Saskatchewan in 1954 was a "mouse ridden, cattle-chewed Piper Super Cub" delivered by John Lynch, himself a pioneer waterfowl researcher. Evans was one of the first Flyway Biologists after the Flyway system was adopted and served with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) until 1972. And today (2002) as then, it is impossible to determine if the Flyway Biologist is first a pilot or waterfowl biologist/researcher. Evans and a fellow biologist, Jerry Pospichal, not only did their regular survey and banding work but conducted several experiments in an attempt to improve their
counts of ducks.
Leon D. Cool flew breeding duck surveys in 1948 in southern Alberta using an Army surplus Stinson L-5 - number 724. Before he could head home and "in the absence of a
mechanic", he had to replace the engine in old 724.
John J. Lynch reported his success at separating young snow geese from the previous breeding season from adults in the wintering areas of Texas and Louisiana in 1937. It was nearly impossible to survey these birds on the breeding grounds and the new "winter appraisals" provided a good estimate of reproduction, an important parameter for wildlife managers to know. As happened to many fields of science, World War II interrupted the work but it was resumed later. The technique was also applied to populations that wintered on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
But the war did not stop all progress. G. Hortin Jensen was assigned to survey and conduct research on ducks at the great Bear River Delta in Utah in 1943. The Delta and associated marshes were shallow, covered thousands of acres and getting around was difficult at best. Jensen and Cecil S. Williams, who later become the Central Flyway Representative, conceived and built from spare parts "Alligator I", the first air boat. This new waterfowl management device allowed them to conduct their work in an efficient manner.
From these beginnings, the art and science of waterfowl surveys and other activities evolved into what it is today. While there is still an important "art" component (for example,
counting and identifying species of ducks at 100 miles/hour), the use of GPS units, satellite radios and computers has improved not only data collection but how it is used to assist with management decisions. Much of this work involves counting the birds themselves while some, such as those to make harvest estimates, involves looking at parts of birds and obtaining information from hunters.
In 2000, the USFWS reported there are about 150, mostly-annual surveys of migratory game birds in North America (Cooperative Migratory Bird Survey - see References). Some include vast areas of the continent and others only a small area. Collectively, their cost is nearly $5.5 million and take almost 32,000 days to complete.
Below is information on the major surveys and data collection efforts that occur on a scale larger than the Central Flyway but provide important information for the Flyway. There is a separate section about those that occur within the Flyway even though the data collected is usually contributed to national databases. There is also a brief section that lists surveys conducted by, within and for a state to assist in local management decisions.
In summary, the data collected through these surveys provide important information to migratory game-bird managers and decision makers. The fact that they occur speaks of their and their agencies commitment to making sure that the health and status of migratory game birds remains at a high level.
Some Terms Used
Index - Since not all birds are counted in any survey (except maybe for whooping cranes), essentially all estimates made from survey data are indices. Surveys are conducted in a similar manner every year and, in many cases (e.g., the May Duck Survey), accepted methods are used to "expand" the number counted on a sample area to the whole area under consideration. In other cases (e.g., winter surveys), the actual number of birds seen is reported as the index.
Transect - A line along which all waterfowl or wetlands observed are counted within some given distance from the center-line.
Days to complete - This is the number of person-days needed to collect, analyze and report the data.
Cost - The total of operational expenses - does not include the cost of person-days.
Trend - Information that allows the detection of if an index is changing over time.