On Saturday, I went to Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge to help with their annual, open to the public duck banding. The refuge is on flat terrain and is mostly wetlands because it lies on the bed of glacial Lake Agassiz (named after Louis Agassiz: the original glaciologist).
Banding programs for waterfowl help scientists and managers make decisions on hunting regulations and estimate survival rates, migration routes and other biological information. Because of the wet conditions in the region, there was an above average number of ducklings hatched this year. Agassiz is one of Minnesota’s Important Bird Areas with 294 species of birds.
After I arrived at the headquarters and the project manager explained what we would be doing and why, everyone who came to help drove up near one of the pools where the Fish & Wildlife personnel had set up a blind. We couldn’t get too close or be too loud, or we’d risk scaring the birds away. From there, they set off a rocket net to catch the ducks. We were then able to come up to the location while the refuge personnel rounded up the ducks into long metal boxes.
The refuge personnel then handed out ducks for the public to bring over to band. The turnout was one of the highest they’ve seen, which made for long lines to band. There was also a good percentage of children, which was good to see, but they weren’t always the best at holding onto the ducks. Quite a few ducks made an escape before being banded.
Refuge personnel picked out the band your duck needed. Each metal band has a unique identifier and they are sorted by species, sex, and age. While helping us band our ducks, the refuge personnel were great at explaining how to tell the difference between male and female and mature and immature individuals. Bands are placed around the ducks’ legs with a pliers, making sure it is completely closed so they won’t get injured.
My duck was a female mallard. You can tell she is a female by the orange and black bill.
You can she hatched this year, because of the tips at the end of her tail feathers form a “V.”
Mostly Mallard Ducks were caught, but there were also a few Black Ducks and Wood Ducks.
Refuge personnel also took blood samples and tested for the avian flu virus (H5N1) from a random sample of ducks. This is one of the reasons we all had to wear gloves.
We were then able to release the now banded ducks. Some were more enthusiastic to leave than others.
After banding, darkness was setting in. I didn’t get to do much for birding or wildlife viewing, but did see a few Sandhill Cranes and three Short-eared Owls. I wish I had arrived earlier to do more exploring. I hope to get the chance to come to Agassiz again soon and maybe even see some Moose.