Waterfowl Banding Program

Banding waterfowl

Credit: Tim Moser, USFWS.

The first large-scale North American banding program was established in 1922, but it was not until 1946 that an international banding effort was organized to address specific management objectives for ducks.

One of the first uses of banding and recovery location data was to help biologists determine waterfowl migration routes. By banding ducks and geese in the northern breeding areas and then marking the points where hunters and others recovered them, biologists identified the four major migratory pathways, or flyways, that cross North America.

Band recovery data show biologists how the harvest is distributed throughout the flyway. Biologists also can estimate annual harvest rates and even annual survival rates for some waterfowl species from band recovery data. The annual variation in harvest and survival rates has helped biologists understand how breeding habitat conditions and harvest regulations affect survival. These harvest and survival rates are critical pieces of information that are used to help determine appropriate hunting regulations each year.

Estimating harvest rates from band recoveries requires a thorough understanding of band reporting rates. Reporting rates reflect the willingness of people who recover bands to report the information on the bands. Hunters can report bands by calling the toll-free number (800-327-BAND) that is imprinted on every band, or they can do it online through the Bird Banding Laboratory.

Biologists band more than 200,000 ducks and nearly 150,000 geese and swans in North America each year. To date, most duck banding efforts have focused on mallards. The mallard is the most commonly harvested duck in the United States and Canada, and much of what we know about waterfowl population dynamics and harvest management is due to the continued success of the mallard banding effort.