By Mark Koneff, Chief of the Branch of Migratory Bird Surveys
In partnership with state wildlife agencies and the Canadian Wildlife Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service annually conducts the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey across Canada, Alaska, and the north-central and northeast United States. We use airplanes, helicopters, and ground crews to cover over 2 million square miles of the principal breeding areas of many species of waterfowl in North America.
In a normal year, that is.
Since its inception in 1955, 2020 was the first year that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had to cancel the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, and pivot resources, staff, and banding activities to collect similar data on waterfowl populations. Similarly this spring, border restrictions and limits on travel in Canada forced cancellation of the majority of this important survey.
These restrictions remained in place at the start of our summer waterfowl banding period. Once again, the Service focused its contribution to the Western Canada Cooperative Banding Program on waterfowl production areas in the north-central United States, the Pacific Northwest, and the northeastern United States. Having operated domestically last year, this transition was much easier logistically this year given the gear now stockpiled at various U.S. stations.
While the logistics proved easier, operations were especially challenging at certain drought-stricken stations in the U.S. prairie pothole region. Crews worked long hours, extended operations into September, and used as many methods of catching ducks as they could.
But even using both bait-trapping and cannon-netting, capture and banding rates for priority species, such as mallards, were low for some stations, while others in the prairies enjoyed moderate success. On a brighter note, the crews operating in the Pacific Northwest and Northeast enjoyed good banding success.
While we are all eager for a return to more normal operations in critical banding stations in Canada, it’s gratifying to have been able to again contribute to this critical long-term database that is one of the pillars propping up modern waterfowl management. The experienced banders of the Service’s Migratory Bird Program were also able to renew partnerships within the National Wildlife Refuge System and provide needed materials, training, and support to these important partners in migratory bird monitoring and management.
Read more from our pilot-biologists on the ground (or in the air!):