WATERFOWL BANDS TELL MANY TALES (January 16/98)

“Bird banding,” a voice with a down south American accent said.

“I have a duck band to report.”

“Just one moment, please.” A brief pause and then, “Thank you for calling and reporting the band. Now, I’ll need some information. Where are you calling from and where did you obtain the band?”

I assumed I was talking to someone in Maryland. The band on the mallard I had bagged December 29th had an 800 number and the address of the U.S. Wildlife Service in Maryland. There was a drawl in the voice that asked me for details – the tag number, approximately where I bagged the duck, my name and address and so on.

Later I was told that my duck was banded along the Quebec-New Brunswick border on August 10, 1996. The mallard hen I’d jumped from a marshland springhole in Canard had almost survived a second season. I had dropped two ducks and missed a third when the flock of eight mallards flushed; I wondered if they had all been from the same brood. I pondered the possibility that they had made the long journey together from the boggy area on the upper reaches of Chaleur Bay to the dykelands of western Nova Scotia.

Duck banding is a wildlife management tool; it is also a reminder, when you discover them on ducks and geese, that the wild birds you hunt sometimes have human contact. Every band on a wild bird tells a story. Usually, it’s nothing more than where and when the bird was banded, how long it has survived in the “wilds,” and how far it has travelled in its lifetime. But once in a while those bands reveal things that are amazing and on occasion, amusing.

In November of 1960, Kentville waterfowler Clyde Earle bagged a goose in Medford, Kings County. On the leg of the gander was a tag that told an incredible tale. The goose was banded in North Carolina in 1950. For an amazing 10 years, the goose had survived hordes of waterfowlers on North American flyways and had undoubtedly flown countless thousands of miles on its annual migrations.

The odds that a wild goose would survive that long? Let’s just say I’d like to have that kind of luck in my poker games. Less fortunate and more typical was a goose Earle bagged this fall on the local dykes. The goose, a gander, had been banded in Freelton, Ontario, in 1995 – “before it was old enough to fly” said the certificate Earle received from the Canadian Wildlife Service.

A band we found on a black duck solved a mystery of sorts that had puzzled me and my hunting companions for decades. When we first started to hunt waterfowl we would occasionally bag large specimens of black ducks known locally as “northern black ducks” and “red legs” because of their distinctive reddish orange feet. The general scuttlebutt was that red legs were a bigger sub-species originating in northern Quebec and Labrador. Usually, the prized red legs arrived late in the season – to winter in a more hospitable climate than Quebec and Labrador, we assumed.

Then came the day when we bagged a red leg carrying a band, a band that solved the mystery of these large black ducks once and for all. The number on the band was sent off to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and we waited impatiently to be enlightened. Naturally, we expected that the local legend of the giant black duck’s northern origin would be substantiated.

Later we received a letter from the Wildlife Service informing us that our red leg black duck had been banded a few years earlier in the Kentville bird sanctuary. Turned out that black ducks acquire the distinctive reddish orange legs when they mature.

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