Like many Missourians, I eagerly anticipate the arrival of fall each year. Along with crisp days and colorful landscapes, migrating birds add to the sights, sounds and outdoor opportunities that come with the season. Conserving the birds that breed, spend the winter or migrate through Missouri demands careful study and cooperation with hunters, wildlife watchers and partners throughout North America.
A key technique used in bird conservation is banding, the practice of placing uniquely numbered metal or plastic strips on live birds that are subsequently released. When a banded bird is later observed, trapped or harvested, the information from the encounter provides clues to the bird’s movements, survival, mortality and other important data that assists in conservation decisions.
Because birds travel long distances, the North American Bird Banding Program is an international effort, jointly administered by the United States Geological Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Service. On average, approximately 1.2 million birds are banded in the U.S. each year, and about 87,000 encounters with banded birds are reported. In Missouri, Conservation Department biologists band approximately 1,200 wood ducks and 2,000 Canada geese each year, and about 90 wood duck and 490 Canada goose bands are recovered. These band recoveries form the backbone of waterfowl population management. Band recoveries have helped identify the migration corridors, or flyways, used by waterfowl. Band recoveries also help determine the distribution of waterfowl harvest and help us learn how far birds travel from their banding location, what routes they follow and where they spend the winter. This information is important because it highlights when and where management efforts should be focused to be most effective. Information from hunters helps determine if the rate of harvest differs by location and whether harvest regulations should differ by state or flyway.
Harvest information provides other important insights. For example, based on banding information, we know that more than 50 percent of the ducks harvested in Missouri originate from the Canadian prairies. As a result, the Department has developed cooperative projects with partners such as Ducks Unlimited in Canada to ensure breeding habitat is available each year and the tradition of waterfowl hunting continues in Missouri. In addition, Missouri is one of 14 states in the Mississippi Flyway that helps maintain a station in Yorkton, Saskatchewan.
Bird banding is a universal and indispensable technique for studying the movement, survival and behavior of birds. It helps us understand and monitor the relationships among breeding areas, migration routes and wintering areas and the contribution of each toward maintaining bird populations that cross both state and international boundaries. Hunters and wildlife watchers are integral participants in the bird-banding program and through band-recovery reporting contribute toward the management of waterfowl populations. Get out and enjoy the fall, and if you see or harvest a banded bird, be sure to report it.
Robert L. Ziehmer, director
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