A group of waterfowl enthusiasts have joined with a waterfowl expert to create a banding project unique in the state.
Doug Osborne, faculty member at University of Arkansas-Monticello, is working with Wil Maxwell of Monticello and others to band ducks wintering in the southern part of the state.
Two seasons in, the group has banded about 1,000 ducks, and the information gleaned from harvested ducks in coming years will provide valuable insight into migration patterns. The bands are U.S. Fish and Wildlife bands, and the project is one of several privately funded banding programs around the country. Maxwell said he is not aware of another such project in Arkansas.
Osborne explained that since federal banding projects began several decades ago, the bulk of the federal banding has occurred in a handful of locations, all in the northern breeding grounds. That limited pool of banded ducks could be leading to skewed survey results, he said.
“If you are banding birds in the same area year after year after year and making management decisions from banding in one area, you may be missing critical information,” he said. “By banding birds in the wintering ground down here, we are banding waterfowl that have survived the hunting season. They have migrated through and survived three months of being shot at, basically.
“They are going to be the birds that return to the breeding grounds. If you band in three or four locations, those birds may continue to go to the same area for the winter, and you may be missing a large portion of the population. By focusing on birds in the wintering area, we are catching a lot more birds at random, catching different groups of birds that may disperse differently and won’t go to the same breeding areas.”
Osborne noted that banding information provides guidance for waterfowl hunting regulations. Providing more feedback in terms of geographical areas allows for better planning on a national level.
The project sprang from a need, Maxwell said.
“We had been studying the amount of banding being done by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. It has decreased every year for the past eight to 10 years because of funding. We said, ‘Why don’t we just band them?’ he said.
“So, we wanted to do wintertime banding on habitat that has consistent water and consistent food every year to see where these ducks went, if they came back, how many came back and all those different things that we think will be beneficial to the Arkansas duck hunter.”
The banding takes place on forested reservoirs Maxwell owns.
Maxwell said that in the first year of the privately funded program, the group banded about 150 birds. This past season, that number grew to more than 800. All of those birds were mallards, both drakes and hens. However, the group also banded some pintails this past season.
Catching the birds is easier than it sounds, Maxwell noted. He said the group uses two types of traps — common live swimming traps and cage traps made for feral hog capturing.
“We even have an automatic trap. We have cameras on them. There are lots of ways of doing it. We had tremendous success last year,” he said. “We had four ducks killed that we banded year before last, which is not a bad percentage when you consider that we will probably have more of those killed this year.”
The normal kill rate for banded ducks is 6-8 percent per year.
The group keeps meticulous notes on the banded ducks, passing that information to Osborne.
Osborne estimated that information gathered over a five- to six-year period would provide enough of a sample to make early conclusions.
“If we put out 1,000 bands a year for five or six years, we can begin to look at survival rates and begin to plot point on a map where they are harvested at to see migration corridors and that sort of thing,” he said.