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WOOD DUCK 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
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
“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
“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
By: Steve McCadams