Pre-season Duck Banding

In 1995, the Central Flyway Council (CFC) determined that large "holes" in the data existed - places where few ducks had been banded - that raised serious questions about the characteristics of ducks (primarily mallards) that breed in the Central Flyway (CF). In fact, there was not a good data set that allowed managers to tell if mallards from a certain region stayed in the CF or slipped quickly to the Mississippi Flyway. Given the differences in hunting regulations and harvest characteristics between the two flyways, this is an important question.

In 1996, the CFC undertook its own six-year banding study. The bandings would contribute to the national database but additional flyway objectives were identified. During the six years ending in 2001, over 139,000 ducks were banded including over 31,000 mallards, nearly 94, 000 blue-winged teal and 10,000 pintails. The study cost over $218,000. A smaller, operational program was implemented in 2002 to continue to add to the database and detect changes that might occur over time. It is now part of the larger cooperative Preseason Banding Program. Three maps of recoveries for mallards and blue-winged teal are available.

This operational program attempts to band a representative sample of ducks across a broad region of the "duck factory" - prairie Canada and north into the Northwest and Yukon territories and in portions of North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, primarily during August and early September. The current program has not changed substantially since it became operational in 1954 - the emphasis is on banding birds that nested and were produced (i.e., ducklings) in the immediate area where the banding occurs. Other duck species also are banded when trapped. In the Central Flyway, the primary other species banded include blue-winged teal and pintail.

The banding data becomes particularly valuable after a recovery of the band is made. This can occur by recapturing the bird at a later date but most often occurs when a hunter shoots a banded bird. The next step is the critical one - the hunter must report the band, typically to the Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL), which is run by the US Geological Survey (USGS), Biological Resources Division. Prior to 1995, bands were inscribed with only an address and hunters had to send a letter to the BBL with information about where and when they shot the bird, as well as the band number. Beginning in 1995, bands also were inscribed with a toll-free phone number for the hunter to call and report the band. Starting in 2007, the bands also included a web address where you can report your band. This has increased the band reporting rate (the percentage of banded birds taken AND reported) from about 33% to as high as 80% for ducks, and has significantly increased the efficiency of banding operations.

The recoveries provide a multitude of information including identifying migration routes, the distribution and derivation of harvest, correction factors for the composition of the harvest and survival and harvest rates. This latter information is used by USFWS within Adaptive Harvest Management models to aid in determining annual duck hunting regulations.