Wood Duck Banding and Nesting

By Ryan Kelly | September 2, 2004
From Missouri Conservationist: Sep 2004

EAGLE BLUFFS CONSERVATION AREA is a 4,269-acre, wildlife oasis just six miles southwest of Columbia, at the confluence of the Missouri River and Perche Creek. With funds made available by the Conservation sales tax, the Conservation Department was able to purchase the area in 1989 and has developed it as a wetland. It opened for public use in October 1995 and has developed it as a wetland. It opened for public use in October 1995. Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area is unique in that the water for wetland habitat management on the area starts as effluent from the City of Columbia. The water cleans up as it passes through the city's four wastewater treatment wetlands. By the time it arrives at Eagle Bluffs, located next door to the treatment facility, the water is pollution-free.

Eagle Bluffs is an important feeding and sheltering spot for migrating waterfowl and water birds. Naturally, one of the most popular activities here is waterfowl hunting. People also visit the area to dove hunt, archery deer hunt, fish, hike, take pictures, study nature and view wildlife.

The area's high duck population and proximity to a large population center also provide a unique opportunity to get people who love nature and the outdoors involved in an important waterfowl study.

Volunteers at Eagle Bluffs have been working with the area's wood duck population since 1998.

In 1997, only Conservation Department employees were involved in the wood duck trapping and banding program. The banding program provides data for estimating survival rates, band recovery rates, harvest rates and harvest distribution. Banding wood ducks also provides the Conservation Department and other agencies with long-term data on migration routes, as well as data from breeding and wintering areas.

The trapping method used then is known as brood trapping, which involves time-consuming and sometimes strenuous work. Brood traps are floating traps that allow wood ducks to enter through several open doors. Once inside, the birds are unable to exit due to the intricate construction of the doors.

Workers banded 109 wood ducks by the end of 1997. Because of this success, the Conservation Department selected the area to be a wood duck banding quota area. Maintaining this status meant that each year, starting in 1998, at least 100 birds had to be banded.

The staff at Eagle Bluffs decided that the program offered a chance to enlist volunteers to assist them in trapping and banding wood ducks.

A pilot wood duck volunteer program began in 1998. That first year, volunteers baited and maintained brood traps. Also in 1998, the Eagle Bluffs staff received permission from the City of Columbia to trap and band wood ducks on the wastewater wetlands, a series of shallow wetland cells dominated by cattail and duckweed. This type of habitat provides an enormous amount of quality brood-rearing areas for local wood ducks.

In 1998, the volunteers helped trap and band 224 wood ducks . Their efforts were key to achieving this high number.

More good news for the wood duck volunteer program followed in 1999. That's when a large increase in the number of volunteers enabled the Eagle Bluffs program to include rocket netting to augment the already successful brood trapping.

Rocket netting uses rockets to propel nets over birds attracted to baited areas. After a net has been fired over the birds, the volunteers secure the net, remove the birds and bring them to a biologist who determines each bird's age and gender before banding it.

An abundance of volunteers made rocket netting possible, but this capture technique also opened the door for a whole new age group of volunteers, specifically kids. Rocket netting is less strenuous for both volunteers and wood ducks. It's also a great parent/child activity because parents and youngsters work directly with the birds. Brood traps, in contrast, require little contact with the birds.

Thanks to the addition of rocket netting, volunteers and area staff banded 386 wood ducks in 1999.

Along with its benefits for volunteers, 1999 also was beneficial to wood ducks. That year, seventh- and eighth-grade students of Saint Peter's Catholic School in Fulton established a nest box program on Eagle Bluffs. The students built and installed nest boxes as part of their science and math curriculum.

In the winters of 2000 and 2001, we hosted wood duck box installation days. On these days, the students from Saint Peter's Catholic School arrived in vans and pickup trucks loaded with wood duck boxes, ladders, wood chips, predator flashing and tools. The kids were excited. In addition to learning about wood ducks and other waterfowl and wildlife, they did something positive for the environment.

In 2000, volunteers and area staff banded 366 birds. In 2001, we banded 359 birds. In 2002, volunteers and area staff banded 213 wood ducks. We also relocated several wood duck nesting boxes to more suitable locations.

About 40 volunteers now participate in the nest box maintenance and banding seasons. Nest box maintenance takes place in mid to late February, when the area hosts "Volunteer Nest Box Day." Under sometimes harsh conditions, volunteers and area staff clean and refill 121 nesting boxes with fresh wood chips and inspect boxes to determine if any repairs are required.

The real fun takes place from July 1 into early September when the banding takes place.

Without the volunteers, the wood duck nesting and banding program wouldn't be nearly as successful as it is. The Eagle Bluffs volunteers are the backbone of our efforts to band more than 300 wood ducks each year.

Data received from band recoveries helps the Conservation Department make decisions that ensure the majestic wood duck will be around for future generations to enjoy.

In today's hustle-and-bustle world, it's refreshing that so many people selflessly give up their free time to volunteer for conservation. The Eagle Bluffs' wood duck volunteers, and other Missourians who volunteer for Conservation Department programs and at Department facilities, are critical to our efforts to conserve Missouri's fish, forest and wildlife resources.

If you would like to help at Eagle Bluffs or volunteer on behalf of conservation, contact your local conservation office for opportunities. If each of us does a little, together we can accomplish a lot.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Bryan Hendricks
Art Director - Ara Clark
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Circulation - Laura Scheuler