Duck Banding Facts

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mallard duck band
A duck band on the leg of a mallard. Duck hunters are encouraged to report duck bands to the Bird Banding Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. Information gathered from duck bands is essential for developing annual hunting regulations and conservation programs.

Colored second duck bands with no dollar amount are visual markers used by researchers who want to identify ducks at a distance. These should be reported along with regular duck band numbers.

Why Band Ducks?

When a duck is fitted with a band, the bander records where and when the bird is banded, how old it is, what sex it is and other information. Those records then are sent to the Bird Banding Laboratory where they are entered into a computer database. If a duck band is later reported, scientists can use the information to learn more about a species.

During the earliest days of duck banding, researchers simply wanted to know more about duck migration. But today, duck band returns also provide information about a species’ abundance, distribution, numbers, life span, causes of death and more. Data from banded ducks are used to monitor population levels, assess the effects of environmental disturbances and address concerns such as bird hazards at airports and crop depredations.

Results from duck banding studies also support national and international conservation programs such as the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Each year, biologists thoroughly analyze band returns and use the information to assess duck hunting pressure, estimate productivity and survival, and measure the vulnerability of the age/sex classes to hunting pressure. This information is essential for developing the duck hunting regulations each of us must follow to assure duck populations aren’t harmed by overharvest.

duck banding reporting rates
To determine duck band reporting rates, researchers periodically band ducks with standard (silver) and reward (colored) bands offering various dollar amounts to those who report reward bands.

Duck-Banding Facts

Biologists band more than 200,000 ducks each year, with information recovered for large numbers of those birds. In 2001, for example, 222,006 ducks were banded and 48,576 bands recovered.

Through 2007, about 13 million ducks had been banded in North America. The Mallard leads the flock, with about 7 million banded. Blue-Winged Teal are a distant second at more than 1.5 million, followed by pintails and wood ducks (1.3 million), Black Ducks (1 million) and Green-Winged Teal (500,000).

The most commonly banded diving duck is the Lesser Scaup at 350,000 plus. Redheads (270,000), canvasbacks (160,000) and Ring-Necked Ducks (155,000) are next on the list. The black scoter is near the bottom of the list, with only about 340 banded to date. The remoteness of the Black Scoter’s breeding range in northern Canada and Alaska has made it difficult for waterfowl biologists to capture and band this species. Ducks almost never banded include masked ducks (3) and tufted ducks (2).

Not surprisingly, the duck bands most often found on duck hunters’ lanyards are those found on commonly banded species such as Mallards (around 1 million recoveries), Black Ducks (160,000), Pintails (147,000) and Wood Ducks (140,000). Among the real rarities are the 2,000 or so bands (per species) recovered from Cinnamon Teal, Common Goldeneyes and Buffleheads. Rarer still are bands from Ruddy Ducks, Long-Tailed Ducks and Spectacled Eiders. If you have a Ruddy Duck band, you’re one of only 550 duck hunters who can make that claim. Only 61 Long-Tailed duck bands have been recovered, and only 10 Spectacled Eider bands!

Reporting A Duck Band

Of the more than 1 million birds banded each year in North America, 87 percent of all recoveries reported to the Bird Banding Laboratory are from waterfowl. Surprisingly, however, of all the banded birds killed by duck hunters, only 30 to 40 percent are reported. Given the tremendous cost associated with the banding effort and the reliance on duck banding as an essential management and research tool, the loss of data associated with this low band-reporting rate is regrettable.

Any band you recover is yours to keep, and reporting information is easy. To report a band via the Internet, visit www.reportband.gov. To report a band by telephone, you can call toll-free to 1-800-327-BAND (2263) from anywhere in Canada, the United States and most parts of the Caribbean.

Information needed for a report includes the duck band number; how, when and where the duck band was found; and the name and address of the person reporting the duck band. About three to four weeks after you submit a report, you’ll receive a certificate of appreciation from the Bird Banding Lab and basic banding information about the bird you are reporting, including the state or province where the bird was banded, the date it was banded and the species.

Sometimes duck hunters find very old duck bands with the numbers worn and unreadable. The numbers on these duck bands still can be determined by a process called etching if the hunter sends the band to the Bird Banding Lab, 12100 Beech Forest Rd., Laurel, MD 20708-4037. Hundreds of bands are etched and returned to hunters every year.

Frederick Lincoln
Frederick Lincoln with the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey was a key player in early efforts to develop a system for banding ducks and other birds in the U.S.

Duck Band Trivia

  • While duck hunting in Missouri, biologist George Brakhage killed a gadwall he had banded several weeks earlier in North Dakota.
  • A duck band placed on the leg of a Pintail in Canada’s Northwest Territories was recovered from the stomach of an American alligator in Florida’s Orange Lake 13 months later.
  • One Black Duck Drake was captured 18 times during a nine-year span in the waterfowl banding traps of the Michigan Department of Conservation. An adult when first trapped and banded in 1949, the duck successfully eluded hunters and wildlife predators for 10 years. Caught in a trap on January 31, 1958, the bird’s original leg band, which was worn thin with age, was replaced.
  • A Pintail banded on September 2, 1940, in Athabasca County of northern Alberta eluded hazards until January 1954 when it was shot near Naucuspana, Tabasco, Mexico. Considering the 3,000 miles between band site and death, and assuming the bird made the two-way migration each year for 13 years, the Pintail would have logged nearly 80,000 migration miles during its lifetime.
  • Acquiring one bird band a season ranks right up there. But how about two, on consecutive shots, on the same day? That’s what happened to Howard Ewart on November 23, 1996, when he shot a pair of Mallard Drakes (1007-31302) and (1337-79713) while hunting on the Big Horn River near Thermopolis, Wyoming. Also living a charmed existence was Jack Needles, who, on December 24, 1992, bagged a drake black duck (1287-82810) and a hen mallard (1287-82870) near Stone Harbor, New Jersey. The birds arrived as a pair.

Age Records

Information on life span is collected every time a banded bird is reported to the Bird Banding Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. And the record ages for some duck species may surprise you.

  • Canvasback, 29 years, 6 months
  • Mallard 27 years, 7 months
  • Black duck, 26 years, 5 months
  • Blue-winged Teal, 23 years, 3 months
  • Redhead, 22 years, 7 months
  • Wood Duck, 22 years, 6 months
  • Pintail, 22 years, 3 months
  • American Wigeon, 21 years, 4 months
  • Ring-Necked Duck, 20 years, 5 months
  • Green-Winged Teal, 20 years, 3 months

Duck Banding Conclusion

As you can see, the value and importance of duck bands far exceeds that of mere jewelry. Duck hunters who harvest birds and report their bands provide invaluable assistance in the effort to conserve North America’s ducks. Information from hunters provides incredible insight into the lives of waterfowl and helps foster a much greater appreciation of the birds we hunt.

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