Duck Banding – Who Knew?

Wood Duck - Photo Susan Young

Everyone had been looking forward to this outing; the ODNR Duck Banding. Boy, was I excited! I had seen a few bandings before; mostly of the small and colorful songbirds. I’d even seen hummers be banded, but waterfowl? Nope! I was very curious to see how they did it. 

OYBC Duck Banding After we introduced ourselves and learned a little more about duck banding from ODNR waterfowl biologist Doug McClain, we began our short hike to the pond. Along the way, we were visited by the local birds like American Goldfinches, Field Sparrows, and Indigo Buntings. We even had good looks at some cool dragonflies! Towards the end of our little trip, we entered the territory of the Ghost Finch; a leucistic American Goldfinch. Only a few of us caught a glimpse of the bird, as it then disappeared into what seemed thin air. 

Soon after that mysterious encounter, we arrived at our destination; a small, shallow pond filled with dead trees, duckweed, and bordered by cattails. Within it was two wire traps, both containing nervous Wood Ducks and Mallards. The contraptions where much larger than I had expected; it wasn’t long before I had waders on, trudging through to the trap with my comrades, Doug and DOW Technician Herb Houser included. When we arrived at the first site, I was enchanted by being so close to the waterfowl. It’s not everyday you get to be inches from a cluster of Wood Ducks! Then I noticed some strange behaviors I had never seen from the shore; these ducks—dabblers, mind you — would dive underwater in defense. A female mallard must’ve been freshly preened, for her tail was sticking out of the water. Too buoyant! She and the others would hang underwater for quite sometime before coming up. I had no clue dabblers could hold their breath so long, and was very impressed. Although, seeing a floating duck bum was pretty amusing; I imagine it’s like trying to push a life vest under the water! Doug and Herb Houser began to gently extract each individual with a large net and place them in the “duck boat.” The Wood Ducks were very feisty, and would often flap a shower of water on us. The Mallards refused to move from the corners, even when we tried to push them back with out hands. I was greatly intrigued by the different personalities.

Eventually, the task was done and we set for land. Those who stayed out of the pond had seen orioles and a Green Heron while we were busy, but now their attention was turned to the ducks.

To see the small intricacies on their feathers, hear their soft whispering calls, and their intelligent, thinking eyes is something I’m sure to remember for a long time. I think everyone felt the same, as we were all very quiet and gentle in our movements. 

Doug proceeded to teach us how to age first year birds versus adults, and how to determine male or female. I was fascinated to learn that a first year duck had “V” notches on their tail feathers, while the adults did not. We also learned that only female ducks quack when being released; I wonder why that is? No one knows for sure, but it was proven true during releases!

OYBC Duck Banding FriendsOne by one, we met each Mallard and Wood Duck, and all of us had a chance to release them. Seeing them up close, as I mentioned before, was captivating. Holding a sweet female “woody”, one that would travel hundreds of miles in the nearing fall, stole my heart. I wished her good luck as I tossed her into the air, and watched in awe as she flapped away on those beautiful brown wings, giving a few whistle-like calls. Good luck indeed.

After the bittersweet end to the duck banding, we set out for Prairie Oaks, where we ate our lunch and took an observant walk on one of the trails, lead by Steve, a good birding friend of Darlene’s. Along the way, we had some exciting views of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and we all witnessed the Eastern Wood-Pewee sing his song. That day, it seemed, was focused not just in the birds, but also on the plant life, insects, crustaceans, mammals, reptiles, and the natural history of the forest. We explored even off trail, scouting out beautiful spots by the river, following a few raccoon tracks, and in search for paw-paws. Even despite the a slight drizzle every now and then we enjoyed ourselves to no end!

 After an hour or so of wonder and wander, the outing was ended with some joyous news; Steve Landes would be signing up to be an advisor for the Central Ohio chapter! We all did happy dances, and are super excited to welcome an “almighty” eBird reviewer into our family. All in all, this was very hard to write because of all the absolutely wonderful things that happened; it was so hard to find the right words. I hope I managed to bring you along on our adventure!

Katelyn Shelton is a member of the Central Ohio Chapter of the Ohio Young Birders Club

The following list of bird species seen during this outing was compiled by Addie Houser:

Wood duck
Mallard
Great blue heron
Green heron
Turkey vulture
Osprey
Red tailed hawk
Yellow-billed cuckoo
Belted Kingfisher
Red bellied woodpecker
Northern flicker
Eastern wood-peewee
Great crested flycatcher
Eastern kingbird
Bluejay
Barn swallow
White breasted nuthatch
Carolina Wren
American Robin
Gray cat bird
Eastern towhee
Field sparrow
Song sparrow
Baltimore oriole
American Goldfinch

In addition, some participants saw the following birds:

Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Killdeer
Downy Woodpecker
Carolina Chickadee
European Starling
House Finch
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting