To many waterfowl hunting outsiders, the concept of banded ducks is a foreign one. Is the duck in a musical group? Has it banded together with other ducks to fight hunters? What could this strange term possible mean?
In actuality, a banded duck is the waterfowl world’s version of a huge buck. Just as the accomplishment of killing a buck is classified and judged based on how much the animal weighs and how many points his antlers have, ducks are often assessed by whether or not they are marked by distinctive silver bands. Just like 20-point bucks are rare and hard to find, a coveted silver band will be found on only a small portion of the duck population. An even smaller percentage of those banded ducks are harvested in any given year, and a hunter who scores one – or more – considers the band a great keepsake trophy. Some hunters even create a necklace or lanyard of all the waterfowl bands they have recovered in their careers.
The bands, in essence, are like small rings or bracelets that are placed on ducks by the United States Geological Service in order to monitor duck populations, movements, and harvest patterns. When hunters report a band, the USGS takes that harvest into account in planning and executing conservation efforts. The USGS can use a band number to determine how old a duck was when it was harvested and where it was banded in the first place. More common species of ducks – the mallard, for instance – are banded more often than others. The spectacled eider, on the other hand, since it is a sparser species, is banded far more sparingly. In fact, only 10 spectacled eider bands have ever been recovered.
However, while different ducks are banded in different quantities, making some bands rarer and inherently more valuable others, species variations are not the only differences that exist among duck bands. In fact, while many waterfowl hunters will hear the words “duck band” and think automatically of the aforementioned silver leg bands that mark many different ducks, that’s only one type of banding that the USGS does.
These silver bands are actually made of aluminum and are fitted to each individual bird, meaning that one waterfowl hunter who harvests a wide range of waterfowl may have bands of different sizes. The most common, again, is the silver leg band fitted to the mallard duck, which is usually a size 7A. These silver bands can also be found on Canada geese (size 7), green-wing teal (size 4), and even swans (size 14).
Another type of common waterfowl band takes the form of a plastic neck collar, which come in different colors to indicate where the bird was collared. Unlike the silver leg bands, which span all different types of waterfowl species, plastic collars are unique to geese and are used mostly to track migration patterns. You also may find plastic colored leg bands, which essentially serve the same purpose as the collars.
Other band types are less common, but are also recovered from time to time. These include nasal markers, leg tags, and even GPS trackers. If you recover one of these, do a bit of Google searching to determine exactly how to report it and what it means.