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WOODIE WONDERLAND THRILLS YOUNGSTERS
(BANDING HELPS TRACE MIGRATION)
Since the dawn of time man has
scanned the skies and wondered where and when the birds migrate. How far
to they travel? How long do they live?
Deep in the marshes of the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge was the
setting last week for some 25 youngsters filled with enthusiasm. Arranged
by the Paris Ducks Unlimited Chapter in hopes of providing both an
educational and entertaining outing, the group descended on the backwaters
of Kentucky Lake.
Our clan was the guest of refuge manager John Taylor, whose staff
coordinated the banding operation of some 200 woodies. Over 400 waterfowl,
mostly wood ducks with an occasional summer mallard mixed in, were hemmed
up in the mesh net erected by U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials.
We were about to take part in one of several summer banding operations
conducted by USFWS where crushed corn proved too tempting to resist for
the abundant flocks. The thought of tipping their taste buds with the
golden grain had attracted large numbers of ducks to a walk-in type trap
surrounded by shallow sloughs.
It was here the kids would partake of a valuable management operation.
Their efforts today would help answer questions tomorrow and aid in the
management of this valuable resource.
Before the young waterfowlers took on the role of sheepherders, they
received some biology lessons about the plight of the wood duck.
Biologists Robert Wheat and Clayton Ferrell gave presentations filled with
interesting tidbits on the history of the region’s most popular waterfowl.
Aging and determining the sex of the birds was explained, along with the
reasons aluminum legs bands are placed on the leg of ducks in the first
place. A wood duck box was given away to the youngster guessing the oldest
recovery of a banded woodie.
Like puppies out of the pen, these greenwings wasted no time in releasing
energy and adapted quickly to the banding efforts. Ducks were moved into
small holding cells and separated by vertical doors where kids were able
to grab the ducklings and prepare for banding.
Some were uncertain of the task at hand as a few ducks stole the
opportunity for a quick getaway. Like a pheasant flushed from the tall
grass of a wind swept South Dakota prairie, these woodies knew how to the
moment and ride the sky.
“Looks live we’ve had a good hatch this year,” said Taylor, when asked
about the numbers of ducks thus far. “It appears the lion’s share of the
ducks are juveniles”
Each band has a series of numbers and biologists log the data, which is
entered into a national database by USFWS. When hunters or someone finds a
banded duck they can call in the number and later receive a certificate
informing them of where the bird was banded and who did it, along with the
date and approximate age of the bird at the time of banding.
“We’ve captured 1,243 wood ducks this year on the refuge, some of which
already sported leg bands, and our records show we’ve banded 8,575 between
1992 and 2001,” said biologist Clayton Ferrell. “We also have 180 or so
wood duck boxes on the refuge and they receive some 75-80 percent usage.
About 5 percent are used by hooded mergansers.”
How long do wood duck live? While the average life span is likely in the
one to two year range, the oldest recovery on record was 22.6 years!
“That’s an old duck and very unusual,” said Robert Wheat. “It’s amazing
the information we get from band returns. Another surprising bit of
information is the longest return from a wood duck we banded right here at
the refuge. It came from Washington State!”
After banding, each kid got to hold and admire his or her new-feathered
friends. Seconds later the vertical toss meant a wave goodbye.
Only a brief encounter but a memory that will likely last for life.
In the years to come each youngster will pause at the sight of a wood duck
darting over the treetops of a flooded swamp or farm pond and wonder; Was
it a duck they help band?
The mystery of migration and movement continues in the eyes of future
sportsmen. The shrill cry of the woodie from deep within the estuaries
reminds us all that young ducks and young kids sometimes need to meet each
other. This was a day when they did just that.
is a professional hunting and fishing guide here in the Paris Landing
area and host of The Outdoor Channel's television series IN-PURSUIT.