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BANDING HELPS TRACK MYSTERY OF MIGRATION…KIDS HELP AND LEARN
Youngsters from across the area got up close and personal earlier this
summer when invited to participate in the Tennessee National Wildlife
Refuge’s summer wood duck banding program.
Each year Greenwings----Ducks Unlimited members age 16 and under---and a
few of their parents got mud on their boots and got a real field trip when
biologists with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service took them on a duck
round up at the refuge here on Kentucky Lake.
This summer the refuge had a quota of over 300 woodies to band, a process
consisting of catching and trapping several ducks in a mesh type net
baited with corn. The ducks are then herded into a funnel type setup where
vertical doors separate them so banders can handle them individually.
From the legs of the ducks shine an aluminum bracelet bearing a series of
numbers and contact information. Once banded the duck is a messenger,
taking information with it wherever it goes.
And how far do they go? That’s a question asked by people since the dawn
of time. When did they get there and when do they leave?
The migration of birds has always been an intriguing mystery of science
and biology. Biologists with the USFWS receive information on band returns
through the U. S. Geological Survey. Hunters or anyone finding a banded
bird report the date it was taken, location as to state, county and
distance from the nearest town.
The hunter or whoever reports the band receives a certificate in the mail
telling the recipient where it was banded, who banded the bird and when it
was done. Hunters have long sought the jingle of bands on their duck and
goose call laynards, a sign of many mornings in the marshes.
When banding the biologists establish a data base of the banding location,
date and sex of the bird. They also note whether it was an adult or young
of the year.
The information helps monitor distribution and perhaps changes in the
hatch from year to year, which can fluctuate when things like flooding
occur and destroy nests.
“Presently our quota is 334 with that number also broken down into an age
and sex quota of 73 adult females, 45 adult males, 135 immature females
and 81 immature males,” said TNWR biologist Clayton Ferrell. “The immature
quotas are usually easy to meet but both adult quotas are difficult to
meet. The adult male is actually the hardest to meet for us and is a
problem for many other banding stations. We have met both immature quotas
this year but have only banded 56 adult females and 17 adult males.”
“Our banding totals fluctuate a lot from year to year but overall have
been declining. Prior to the start of early goose seasons banding could
continue until the day before the start of the early wood duck/teal
seasons. Now we have to stop 10 days prior to the start of the early goose
season so we are losing around three weeks of banding time.”
Woodies pair off over the course of the winter. We have had a few nests
begin in late January to early February. Depends on the weather how early
they get started. Usually peak nesting starts in March and April.
As to band returns from birds banded here? We have had one way out in
Washington State to the west and Nova Scotia to the northeast. Other than
Tennessee the highest harvest concentration is Mississippi and Louisiana.
Alabama, eastern Arkansas and eastern Texas also show a good harvest. Most
of our wood ducks move out around mid - December but the past couple of
winters it has been several weeks earlier. A few seem to hang around all
winter long unless the winter is really severe.
DOES THE RERUGE ERECT WOOD DUCK BOXES?
“Yes. Usage is about 75 to 85 percent. We still have a wood duck nesting
box program. We have been averaging a peek of around 175 - 185 boxes for
the past decade. The floods of 2010 and 2011 put a big dent into our box
program as nearly 100% of the boxes went under each year right during the
peak of nesting,” said Ferrell when asked to comment on the manmade
“We completely lost 75-100 boxes both years. The Friends of TNWR provided
funds to purchase material for 100 boxes for the first year and Ducks
Unlimited did the same the following year. A Boy Scout group, volunteers
and our own summer students built the boxes. It took until the end of 2014
to restore the box numbers in the field to their previous level.”
“We have fully removed all of the boxes from the cypress trees that needed
a boat to access them. They required a considerable amount of time to
maintain and we had a very narrow window to check them in which the water
levels were high enough. Some years they were never checked for various
reasons due to accessibility issues. All boxes are now accessible on foot.
We have shifted many boxes above the flood line.”
DO THEY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
“Several studies in recent years have come out saying that wood duck nest
boxes don't make a difference in
wood duck populations at the national level. I believe there was one that
looked at several refuges up north that stated there were plenty of
natural cavities available thus boxes weren't really needed. Box programs
have clearly been declining on many NWR's and WMA's as staffing shortfalls
take their toll. Add these studies to the mix and there is less incentive
to run such programs. Refuge biologist Robert Wheat and I feel that box
programs do make a difference at the local level so we plan to continue
ours at the present level as long as we can. We do probably have an
abundance of natural cavities on the refuge and up and down KY Lake, but
predation is still going to be higher in natural cavities vs a properly
run nest box program.
Privately run wood duck box programs can often do more harm than good
because box placement is poorly chosen for brood survival or predator
guards are inadequate. Boxes on posts with a conical guard by far provide
the best protection from predators and then they have to be placed
properly to avoid access from adjacent trees.
Nest box programs are very rewarding in that one can easily see by the use
that they are receiving that they are making a difference. It would take a
lot of time and money to build up a large scale program as well as
commitment from numerous people to see it through each year,” he said.