Iroquois Duck Banders have the Blues

Banding a Blue-winged Teal
Banding a Blue-winged Teal

Actually, what the title of this article should say is, “Iroquois Duck Banders Have The BlueWINGS.” That’s because the Refuge banded 181 blue-winged teal during the 2011 waterfowl banding season. That’s more bluewings than we’ve ever banded in a season at Iroquois. Interestingly, we didn’t catch a single duck of another species. Even though there were mallards, green-winged teal and wigeon all around the traps, the bluewings were the only ones to go in and get caught, allowing us to band them.

Blue-winged teal are one of the first duck species to migrate through our area, although we do have some bluewings that spend their summer nesting right here at Iroquois. This year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated an amazing 8.9 million blue-winged teal during their summer breeding waterfowl survey, an aerial survey covering much of the northern U.S. and southern Canada. This number was 41% higher than the 2010 estimate and 91% above the long-term average. This large population increase might not be the main reason we banded so many bluewings at Iroquois this year, but it probably helped.

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Blue-winged Teal at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge
Blue-winged Teal at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge

Each year the Refuge conducts waterfowl banding operations between the middle of August and the end of September. The number of ducks that get banded in a season fluctuates between a few dozen to several hundred. Availability of staff time for maintaining traps is generally the main factor in determining how many birds get banded, but waterfowl populations and weather during the trapping season also play a role. Birds are captured in cages baited with corn and are then fitted with a metal leg band. Each band has a unique number which is recorded in a database maintained at the U.S. Bird Banding Laboratory located in Patuxent, Maryland. When a bird is later “encountered” (most duck band reports come from waterfowl hunters who have shot a banded bird), the location of that encounter is also entered into the database. Much of what we know about bird migration, survival rates, longevity and similar information has been obtained through analysis of banding data.