All Her Ducks in a Row


An Adventure in Duck-Banding with SCA Intern Stacey Kinney

This post was written for Open Spaces, the official blog of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It’s part of a monthly series featuring SCA interns writing about their experiences working to promote, protect and study wildlife on public lands all over the United States.
Today’s featured blogger, Stacey Kinney, spent her summer at the North Mississippi Refuges Complex. She’s part of the Career Discovery Internship Program, a collaboration between SCA and USFWS that’s strengthening the next generation of conservation leaders by connecting culturally and ethnically diverse college students to wildlife-focused career opportunities.

As part of my SCA internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this summer I had the opportunity to join a duck banding expedition at Coldwater River National Wildlife Refuge in Lambert, Mississippi. I had a lot to learn about banding birds, but that’s OK because I was with a couple of experts: Refuge Manager Amber Breland of Dahomey National Wildlife Refuge and wildlife biologist Becky Rosamond of the North Mississippi Refuges Complex.

Now, duck banding is important for a few reasons: It collects data on the growth rate and distribution of species populations; it allows biologists to track juvenile and adult survival rates for various species; and it provides necessary information for game bird management. When I accompanied Amber and Becky, our mission for the day was to check on some traps and band all of the ducks we found. There were quite a few waiting upon our arrival!

After we’d gone to great pains to scoop all of the ducks out of a particular trap (we used nets!), we had to get them out of the water and onto the bank where we took down their data and got them banded.

Now, as you can imagine, getting one of those little silver bands on a duck is not easy. The ducks flip out when they’re touched and start flapping like mad trying to get away from you. They don’t even listen when you tell them to just be still and calm down! This was my first time ever holding a duck, and I must say, their outright refusal to cooperate made me feel like I was dealing with a bunch of tiny, outraged humans. On the bright side, it was very entertaining, and once I got the hang of things I was out there banding like a pro!

Now, even though I’m a Texan, I am definitely a city girl (Houston!), so the only ducks I ever encountered growing up were the ones I saw floating in office ponds or waddling around at the zoo. It’s only after I started college and became a Fisheries & Wildlife major that I gained some experience with bird banding. That experience, though, was very hands-off, consisting mainly of observing my adviser while he walked through the forest and caught birds in a net. It was A LOT easier than trudging through a knee-deep, mud-bottomed pond (you won’t believe how many times I got stuck trying to get to the shore).

Marshiness aside, this truly hands-on banding experience was a whole lot of fun, not just because the birds were awesome, but also because Amber and Becky were there! Both of them were so welcoming from the very beginning of my internship, and in no time they were entrusting me with independent projects all around the refuge complex.

You get to see a lot of cool things up close when you’re banding, like the difference between male and female wings, ducklings at various stages of growth and even some odd deformities. We also found a recaptured duck, which was beyond cool! 

Our “recapture!” This is what a well-worn duck band looks like. 

As a “conservationist in training,” you tend to notice the natural world more than most people already, but when you get to jump with both feet into something as involved as banding or netting birds, it really brings home how important the work you’re doing is. SCA has played in big part in my gaining an understanding of nature that goes beyond just its beauty, and I’m pretty grateful for that. I feel that it has also gotten me closer to a career goal of mine, a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service!

It was a long but productive morning. We had a time wrangling up those ducks and wrestling bands onto their twiggy little ankles, but we didn’t lose a single one, which felt good. Hopefully this was good enough practice for my professor to let me handle some birds during next semester’s banding trips!

I’m really glad that I got to share a part of my summer with y’all. I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed sharing it!

– Stacey Kinney