Celebrating 30 years of conservation success

CollageThanks to the dedicated efforts of more than 500 volunteers and the financial support of more than 4,500 South Carolina Waterfowl Association (SCWA) members and sponsors, your Association has accomplished the following in the past 30 years:

  • Distributed and installed 22,650 wood duck nest boxes resulting in the production of more than 990,000 wood ducks.
  • Created the 410-acre SCWA Wildlife Education Center (WEC), the home of SCWA’s Camp Woodie, the nation’s leading youth wildlife education summer camp. The WEC is also home to Camp Leopold, SCWA’s school-year natural resource,  conservation camp for 3rd – 7th graders. In 2016, more than 900 youth attended Camp Woodie and more than 6,000 youth will attend Camp Leopold. Since 1986, Conservation Education has been provided to more than 82,000 youth.
  • Provided wetland management assistance to 600 landowners resulting in the creation and enhancement of thousands of acres of managed wetlands.
  • Produced more than 160,000 songbirds and released 880,000 mallards.
  • Added 75 to 100 thousand waterfowl to South Carolina’s waterfowl population on an annual basis.
  • Grown to become the Nation’s second largest state Waterfowl Association.

To ensure future years of success and growth, we must expand our commitment to conserve and enhance South Carolina’s waterfowl and wetland resources. We need your help to pass on the legacy of our waterfowl and wildlife heritage to the next

To learn more about SCWA or to become a member call 803-452-6001 or visit www.scwa.org.

I greatly appreciate your interest and support.

Here’s to the next 30 years!

David J. Wielicki
South Carolina Waterfowl Association Executive Director

Mallard Project Q & A

Frequently Asked Questions about The Mallard Release Program

 Where do SCWA mallards come from?

The mallards that SCWA uses in the Mallard Release Program come from the Frost Waterfowl Hatchery in Darlington, S.C. The Frost Waterfowl Trust manages the genetics of their flock to ensure that their breeders are of the highest genetic quality. These birds exhibit similar plumage, body size and fledging characteristics as their wild reared cousins. When given proper nutrition all Frost mallards are capable of flight at 8 weeks of age. This is identical to the fledging period of Mallards reared in the wild. All Frost mallards are USDA health certified prior to shipment.

How do I get enrolled in the MRP?

First, contact the SCWA Executive Director/waterfowl biologist David Wielicki at 803-452-6001. There are several factors that will need to be addressed in the initial conversation such as, plant and flood capability of your habitat, water sources, pumping potential, and release pond locations. These are key factors that must be addressed before moving forward.

How much does it cost to get into the Mallard Release Program?

A $500 mallard project membership fee must be paid in order to receive an annual site visit and phone consultation.

When do I get my ducks and how old are they when I get them?

The distribution season runs from the end of May through the middle of August. The ducks are transported directly from Frost waterfowl to your release pond.  The ducks will vary in age from 4 to 6 weeks old at the time of distribution.

    Should you have any questions about The Mallard Research Program please contact:

David Wielicki – SCWA Executive Director and Waterfowl Biologist – SCWA

Office: 803-452-6001 ext. 102

The History of Duck Release

by George Reiger

There’s nothing new about sportsmen raising, releasing, and providing improved habitat for game they intend to hunt. It’s called “keeping,” and it reaches back in British history to the reign of Charles II. It’s even possible – since Norman lords are commonly credited with having introduced the ring-necked pheasant to England in the 12th century – that these avid falconers initiated Inner_historyBritish game-keeping 800 years ago. We Americans began our own cultivation of wildlife as soon as a leisure class emerged to do so. In Virginia, George Washington – whose passion was riding to hounds – imported red foxes from England, because the locally more abundant grays prefer climbing trees to running. He and his neighbors also imported ring-necked pheasants and gray partridge. After the Revolution, Lafayette brought Washington a pair of golden pheasants bred in France. However, such fowl were not released for hunting, because there was already an abundance of native game for that purpose.

During the colonial era, Americans mostly subsistence-hunted, but even then, some made a sport of it. Edward Winslow of the Massachusetts Colony advised prospective immigrants to bring hefty smoothbore muskets for the excellent wildfowling near Plymouth.

“Let your piece be long in the barrel,” he wrote, “and fear not the weight of it, for most of our shooting is done from stands” – or what North Carolinians call “stake-blinds.”

Toward the end of the colonial period, patricians shot primarily for sport; secondly, for food. George Washington himself hunted ducks on occasion with a black man named Tom Davis who trained a Newfoundland dog for retrieving. The future President fired a flintlock and probably shot his ducks on the water. Even so, some must have escaped in the split-second between the flash of the primer and the firing of the main charge. Yet, according to his journal, Washington got at least a few ducks most outings, including – and contrary to those who claim this species was historically scarce in the Atlantic Flyway – mallards.

The first serious decline of continental duck numbers began after the War Between the States. While drought may have played a role, the main reasons for the steady decline were burgeoning urban populations, an ever-expanding and wonderfully efficient transportation network that enabled, for example, birds shot in North Carolina to be sold in New York within 24 hours, and – most important of all – unrestrained, day and night, shooting.

By the 1880’s, some market gunners were regularly killing more than 100 birds per morning flight. Once magazine-equipped, slide-action and semi-automatic shotguns were developed, commercial gunners didn’t resist sportsmen’s efforts to ban punt-cannons and multiple-barrel battery guns. After all, such quaint and awkward forms of slaughter didn’t hold a candle to the industrial efficiency of the new shoulder guns.

Although the draining of swamps and the clear-cutting of eastern forests led to the near-extinction of the wood duck, most waterfowl breeding habitat on the North American prairies was still intact in the late 1880s. Early conservationists were convinced they only needed to end over-shooting to restore the flocks.

But the vital question was – and remains – what constitutes “over-shooting?” Is what most hunters consider a “fair limit,” also a biologically sustainable one?

As it turned out, most sportsmen of the time saw only the mote in the commercial gunner’s eye and not the beam in their own. They believed that a recreational hunter who harvested “a reasonable number of ducks” – say, 25 a day – barely impacted the flocks compared to what a market gunner did, who killed and – greatest sin of all – sold 100 ducks a day.

What the sportsmen conveniently ignored was the fact there’ve always been many more of us than market gunners or, their modern equivalent: guides.

And it makes no difference to the population of a given species whether 100 of them are killed by four or 40 recreational hunters, or by only one market gunner. Dead is dead, and dead ducks don’t breed.

As a consequence, the birds didn’t rally as well as was expected after the first federal seasons and limits were instituted in the late 1910s. So the daily bag limit was lowered to 20 birds: later in the 1920s, it was cut to ten.

By 1930, widespread drought compounded the problem. In October, 1931, the cover of Field & Stream magazine asked the question: “Ducks Or No Ducks?” Inside, writers debated whether the season should be closed entirely until the birds recovered. From a biologist’s (or a duck’s!) perspective, this was a logical suggestion. However, politically, it simply wasn’t going to fly.

The U.S. Biological Survey did close the canvasback season when this species’ numbers fell below an estimated one million birds. (Ironically, however, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now “manages” canvasback on the basis of half that number.) And although bufflehead and goldeneye needed it less than most of the more desirable dabbling species, the government closed their seasons as well, primarily because biologists felt they had to do something more than merely reduce season length and the overall daily limit to four birds.

Meanwhile, the deepening drought meant that reproduction by an ever-diminishing number of hens couldn’t keep pace with the on-going attrition by hunters. At this point, a group of mostly mid-western businessmen began an organization called More Game Birds in America to (among other objectives) raise and release enough mallards to replenish the Mississippi Flyway. However, after a couple of years, the businessmen realized they still knew a lot more about growing money than ducks. So they changed their name to Ducks Unlimited and began raising funds to acquire short-term leases on prairie potholes in Canada.

The great Dust Bowl drought relented shortly before America entered World War II. Once sufficient water was restored to the breeding grounds and most hunters were in foxholes and not marshes, the flocks quickly recovered. After the troops came home and took their sons hunting – I was one of those fortunate boys – we experienced the best wildfowling the continent had seen in over 60 years.

And that’s not mere memory talking. At a Minnesota Waterfowl Association Symposium this past April, state biologist Bob Jessen recalled that in 1950, he and an associate counted more than one million mallards in central Minnesota. By contrast, during the so-called halcyon years of the 1970s, the most mallards they ever found in the same region was 250,000.

By the 1960s, it was evident that supplies of ducks were no longer meeting hunters’ demands, especially in the Atlantic Flyway. Several states began raising and releasing mallards to supplement the mediocre fall flights.

However, envy eventually killed the largest of these programs. After the Pennsylvania Game Commission began publishing maps showing the many areas outside the state where state-raised mallards were being shot, local hunters complained their license money was providing “free recreational lunches” to non-Pennsylvanians. Politicians were quick to pick up on this alleged waste of public money, and the Pennsylvania program was abolished.

Meanwhile, in the early 1970s, Maryland created a state duck stamp specifically to pay for mallard releases. Unfortunately, the state Department of Natural Resources did little more than buy ducklings from Eastern Shore breeders and release the pen-raised birds in roadside wetlands when they were six weeks old. It’s now estimated that 93 percent of these birds died within a week or two. The principal beneficiaries of Maryland’s mallard-release program seem to have been raccoons and – on the plus side – a local breeding population of bald eagles.

Nevertheless, the program continued until 1993 until the duck-stamp law was changed to allow the proceeds to be used for wetlands initiatives. Meanwhile, in 1983, a group of landowners in Dorchester County – a low-lying region of hydric soils inletted by numerous tidal creeks – began what they called the Grand National Waterfowl Association to raise money for the rearing, release, and management of mallards on Regulated Shooting Areas, or RSAs.

Some of these landowners were already spending many thousands of dollars a year on growing crops and flooding fields to attract ducks, but – despite their efforts – were seeing only meager flights from which they were lucky to kill two or three ducks per outing. The landowners wanted to see lots of ducks every day and have the opportunity to kill more than a few.

Over subsequent years, some RSA landowners have been too greedy, and some biologists have put self-righteousness or their fear of losing authority ahead of their objectivity as scientists. Yet, all in all, the RSAs have been successful. During the past 16 years, approximately 2.2 million mallards have been released. Although owners can legally harvest as many of their own birds during the regular hunting season as they like, club managers have found the optimum sport is had by limiting members and guests to seven mallards each. A number of clubs even abide by the federal limit, though relatively few wild birds are shot at any RSA.

Today, more than 7,000 acres of otherwise marginal farmland are enrolled in the RSA program, providing 115 full-time jobs and making the program the third largest employer in Dorchester County. RSAs also add some $75 million annually to the local tax base.

Still, the system has an Achilles’ heel so far as the most ethical sportsmen are concerned. As one skeptic told me recently, “A duck should be wary and want to escape when it sees me. If it doesn’t behave that way, it’s not a fair-chase proposition.”

While a majority of RSA mallards meet the fair-chase standard, not all do. And it only takes one tame bird to ruin the esthetics of the hunt. That’s why the Mallard Release Program has established stringent rules governing the breeding and rearing of every mallard it releases. SCWA’s birds are so satisfyingly wary, some of the best callers I know have been amazed to find the ducks they worked through a dozen or more circlings of the decoys have borne SCWA bands when they were finally brought down.

Considering the disappointing seasons that most Atlantic Flyway duck hunters have known in recent years, despite optimum weather and breeding conditions in the north, avid sportsmen have only two choices: We can either travel outside the flyway for more birds, or we can support a high-quality mallard-release program like the one run by the Mallard Release Program. Since I believe in the once and future greatness of this flyway, I’ve elected to stay and help SCWA and MRP fight the good fight.

More Ducks For Your Bucks

How To Get More Out Of Your Crops

Whether you are in the Mallard Release Program or just looking to draw in migratory birds, one factor remains constant: wintering waterfowl need a solid diet to offset the energy expenditure of migration and to provide energy to survive the cold winter months.  Ducks on the wintering grounds also need quality food resources during the wintering period to ensure the ducks are in prime condition for courtship, pair bonding, spring migration and the spring breeding season.   The fact is, the condition of habitats during the winter does have an effect on breeding success in the spring.

Look in any biological publication, and most of the ducks we see around here share a similar diet, protein rich invertebrates during the summer, grains, pondweeds, and sedges during the winter. Find out just how healthy your food plot is from the list below, composed of a few commonly planted crops in this area.

 Chufa- aka Tiger nut, rush nut, yellow nutgrass

A crop that’s worth the price. Once an important food crop in ancient Egypt, it is today cultivated in West Africa, Spain, and China. A fast growing perennial sedge that does well in warm climates, moist or wet soil. The small round tubers along the root are 12% protein, high in carbohydrates, and rich in oleic acid. Can be planted up until Aug. 1 in coastal areas.

 Rice- Oryza sativa

Grains are highly nutritious, with a protein content approaching 14% (13.8%), similar to that of wheat (14.8%). Also has a higher content of amino acids (lysine and methionine), along with essential fatty acids (linolenic and linoleic) than most cereals. Good source of Vitamin B. Drawbacks include difficulty to grow efficiently, as well as in areas where blackbirds are a problem. Valued also for cover and as a substrate and for food for invertebrates which waterfowl also feed on. Seeds mature in 90-100 days.

 Japanese Millet- echinochloa crusgalli var. frumentecea

An excellent crop to drill in or plant where equipment access is limited. May be broadcasted onto exposed mud flats. Millet contains 8.3% protein, along with 25.8% crude fiber. An annual reseeding grass of Asiatic origin that produces heavy seed yields. A tiny seed, approximately 145,000 per pound, are relished by gadwall, mallard, wood duck, and teal. Seeds mature in about 90 days.

 Sorghum- sorghum spp.

An annual small grain crop that is closely related to corn. 9% crude protein, with 2.2% crude fiber. Known for being drought tolerant, with a planting range from April 15 to July 15, or when the soil temperature reaches 65 degrees F.

As with any food plot, perform a soil test from several different areas to be planted to determine fertilization requirements. Weigh your options and use this guide to determine the choice crop for your area, and hopefully they will put more ducks in your area for years to come.

Do Captive-Reared Waterfowl pose a Disease Threat?

by Gary L. Pearson, D.V.M.

Concern has been expressed about the potential for captive-reared waterfowl to introduce diseases such as avian cholera and duck plague into wild waterfowl populations. When considering this potential, it is necessary to examine the two elements of the threat. First is the risk of introducing diseases into migratory waterfowl, and second is the impact on migratory waterfowl populations if such introductions were to occur. To put these risks into perspective, it is helpful to consider four diseases which generally are regarded to be the most important in wild waterfowl – lead poisoning, botulism, avian cholera, and duck plague.

Lead poisoning of waterfowl results primarily from the ingestion of lead shot while the birds are feeding in areas that have been heavily hunted in the past. Prior to the 1991 ban on the use of lead shot in waterfowl hunting, from 1,600,000 to 2,400,000 waterfowl were estimated to die annually from lead poisoning in the United States, and substantial losses continue to occur today. However, because lead poisoning is not a contagious disease, there is no risk of captive-reared waterfowl introducing it into wild waterfowl populations.

Botulism is reported to have killed millions of waterfowl in California and Utah in the early 20th century, and eight major outbreaks with estimated mortalities ranging from 100,000 to 5,000,000 hve been reported in the U.S. and Canada since 1950. Botulism results from the ingestion of a toxin produced by the bacterium, Clostridium botulinum (usually Type C), which may develop during warm summer weather in any decaying animal protein in wetlands, including dead aquatic invertebrates, and it may concentrate in maggots that have fed on decaying carcasses of birds or fish. Because botulism is not a contagious disease, there also is no risk of captive-reared waterfowl introducing it into wild waterfowl populations.

Avian cholera was not reported in migratory waterfowl in North America until 1944 when it was diagnosed in wild ducks in conjunction with an outbreak in domestic poultry in Texas, but information from the National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) in Madison, Wisconsin, indicates that the disease likely has been present in wild waterfowl populations at least since the early 20th century. Since 1944, avian cholera outbreaks have occurred periodically in migratory waterfowl from coast to coast in the U.S. and in Canada, with mortalities estimated as high as 80,000.

Although there is no evidence that captive-reared waterfowl are an important source of avian cholera in migratory waterfowl, it is instructive to consider the impacts of avian cholera on wild waterfowl populations. It is believed that the introduction of avian cholera into susceptible waterfowl frequently results in only a few deathes which are not detected, but under conditions favorable for transmission, large mortalities may occasionally occur. Although avian cholera outbreaks killing 60,000 – 80,000 wild waterfowl have been reported, mortalities exceeding 100,000 apparently are rare. The loss of 100,000 waterfowl would be equivalent to about 0.25% of the total annual mortality in a continental population of 80,000,000.

Duck plague is a contagious viral disease that affects only waterfowl. It was first diagnosed on North America in commercial pekin ducks on Long Island, New York, in 1967, but soon was reported in captive avicultural and free-flying wild waterfowl in the area. In 1973, an outbreak at Lake Andes, South Dakota, killed an estimated 42,500 waterfowl, primarily mallards, out of total population of 163,500. Studies conducted during that outbreak showed that up to 31% of the survivors had been exposed to duck plague virus, and band returns showed that mallards from Lake Andes disperse to 26 states and four Canadian provinces in all four flyways. Despite this massive infusion of duck plague carriers into wild waterfowl populations across the continent, the only outbreak reported in wild waterfowl since then occurred in 1994 on the Finger Lakes in New York, where an estimated 1,200 waterfowl died. Several isolated duck plague mortalities averaging 39 birds per year were reported in non-migratory waterfowl from 1967 to 1995. The total reported losses of migratory waterfowl from duck plague since 1967 are approximately 45,000. To put this into perspective, these total reported losses of migratory waterfowl from duck plague over the past 34 years are equivalent to about 0.1% of the total annual mortality in a continental population of 80,000,000 ducks.

A study by the NWHC of non-migratory waterfowl in the Cheasapeake Bay area of Maryland in 1998 using a newly developed polymerase chain reaction procedure showed high rates of duck plague infection in private flocks, in free-flying non-migratory waterfowl and in waterfowl raised and released for hunting. The study did not include migratory waterfowl from the area, but with the high prevalence of infection in these other groups with which they frequently associate, there can be little doubt that duck plague is present in migratory waterfowl populations, as well.

The NWHC study shows two things. First, with the high prevalence of duck plague in free-flying non-migratory waterfowl in the area, the only way that infection could be prevented in captive-reared waterfowl would be to vaccinate them before they have an opportunity to become exposed. Second, the relative paucity of duck plague outbreaks reported in Maryland (29 from 1967 to 1995, most involving muscovy ducks) in the face of this high prevalence of infection in non-migratory waterfowl in the area indicates that the duck plague virus strains circulating in those populations are of low virulence and pose little threat to migratory waterfowl. In fact, it is likely that these low virulence virus strains are producing natural immunity to more virulent duck plague virus strains in both non-migratory and migratory waterfowl.

Five conclusions can be drawn regarding the threat posed by captive waterfowl for introducing diseases such as avian cholera and duck plague into wild waterfowl populations. First, the risk is minor in comparison with the risks posed by chronically infected carriers already present in these populations and in other non-migratory waterfowl with which they commonly associate. Second, in the unlikely event that captive-reared waterfowl should introduce diseases into wild waterfowl populations, the probability of major outbreaks occurring is extremely low. Third, even if disease outbreaks were to occur from such introductions, they would pale in comparison with the losses from non-contagious diseases such as lead poisoning and botulism. Fourth, the impacts of such disease introductions on migratory waterfowl populations, if they should occur, would not be significant. And fifth, any concerns about the introduction of duck plague into wild waterfowl populations could be minimized by vaccinating captive-reared waterfowl before they are released.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric concerning the alleged disease threat to migratory waterfowl posed by the release of captive-reared waterfowl has been dominated by agency bias, personal prejudice, invalid assumptions, and inaccurate and misleading information. However, an objective analysis of the scientific evidence demonstrates that those claims are unfounded.

Hybridization Issues Regarding Mallard and Black Ducks

by Dr. Frank C. Rohwer and Dr. David B. Smith

Inner_hybridThere is little doubt that the population of American black ducks (Anas rubripes, hereafter black ducks) has shown a long and serious decline from when state and federal biologists first started conducting mid-winter inventories. However, the causes of that decline have been debated for decades. Traditional explanations for wildlife population declines, such as loss and degradation of critical winter habitat and overharvest, certainly have advocates. Overharvest is unlikely, but there is no doubt that there has been serious loss of wintering habitat. It is also clear that breeding habitats, especially areas in the southern segment of eastern Canada and New England have been greatly altered. One of the most interesting and likely explanations of population declines is that black ducks have suffered from interactions with their closest relatives, namely mallards (Anas platyrhynchos).

Wildlife managers often face situations where management aids one species while it has an adverse affect on other species. Sometimes these trade-offs are obvious. On a 36-square mile area in North Dakota in spring 2001 we have bumped nesting success for dabbling ducks from 18% to something above 70% with seasonal predator control. While that is remarkably good for ducks, it is obviously bad management if you like skunks, raccoons, and red fox. Habitat management may appear less controversial, but it has the same sorts of trade-offs. Managing forests so that there are openings in the canopy to promote edge provides good cover and forage plants for traditional game species like quail, rabbits, and deer, but the same canopy openings are very detrimental for many forest interior birds, such as hermit thrushes. Thus, many bird watchers favor different habitat management than do consumptive users of wildlife, most of which like white-tails more than thrushes. What is interesting about the mallard-black duck situation is that one user group, namely eastern seaboard wildfowlers, may have to decide which of the two prized species they want to favor. Clearly, we need to know if managing for mallards comes at the detriment of black ducks.

Biology students learn that two species can interact in several ways, including as predator-prey, host-parasite, competitors, or partners for hybridization. Mallards have not been accused of being predators or parasites of black ducks, but they present threats on three other fronts: as competitors for resources; sources of diseases; or undesirable mates leading to hybridization. The disease question mostly relates to captive-reared mallards, but there are scant data on this subject and the issue has been reviewed by Dr. James Pearson in another article on the SCWA web site, so we shall focus on competition and hybridization.

 Do mallards usurp vital resources from black ducks?

Mallards and black ducks are genetically and ecologically very similar, so there is plenty of potential for competition. However, the evidence for competition is not particularly strong. First we will focus on events during the breeding season. The eastern expansion of breeding populations of mallards has been mirrored by an eastern retreat for breeding black ducks in Ontario and Quebec. These concomitant population changes may reflect the outcome of competition for breeding habitat, with mallards as the clear winners. We agree with that assessment, but we note that it is difficult to rule out the alternative idea that habitat changes in southern Ontario were favorable to mallards and made the habitat unsuitable for black ducks. In this scenario competition plays no role in the black duck population changes.

Assessing whether mallards or black ducks compete for limited resources where they share wintering sites is even more difficult than on breeding areas. There is essentially no data to directly assess competition in the winter. However, our research in Maryland on mallard release sites provided information on habitat use that is relevant to the issue. When individuals or clubs release captive-reared mallards on the eastern shore of Maryland they will only retain those birds on their property when they also provide habitat with abundant food, such as flooded agricultural fields. Aerial surveys we conducted showed that wild ducks make extensive use of habitats that are intensively managed for released mallards, yet wild ducks comprise only a small fraction the harvest on these intensively managed Regulated Shooting Areas. Capital investment into captive-reared mallards motivates management of habitat to provide food to hold birds in the area. That management certainly benefits wild waterfowl as well. Thus, it seems unlikely that released mallards are competing with black ducks. We did many behavioral observations of birds on these highly managed areas and almost never saw black ducks and mallards interacting; we certainly did not see exclusion of black ducks from prime feeding areas.


There is absolutely no doubt that hybridization poses a serious threat to black ducks. The fraction of black ducks that are hybrids with at least partial mallard ancestry ranges from 10% to almost 50%. The concern is that far more abundant mallards will eventually hybridize black ducks out of existence. The pressing management issue is whether releases of mallards exacerbates the hybridization problem. It seems logical that releasing captive-reared mallards in areas with black ducks would increase hybridization rates. However, data from Maryland do not readily support this idea.

Maryland has a long tradition of large scale releases of mallards, with numbers approaching 100,000 in peak years. When we initiated research in 1991 we expected, based on published work, to encounter frequent pairings between captive-reared drake mallards and wild black duck females. However, in three years we examined 492 mallard and 159 black duck pairings and saw few mixed species pairs. Three black duck females had paired with male mallards. The single drake mallard that we could positively identify was of wild origin. Three female mallards paired with males that were mallard-black duck hybrids. The only female of those three with known origin was a wild bird. Our pairing data suggest that mixed species pairings are only 1.6% for black ducks, but harvest data reveal that at least 8.4% of black ducks are actually black duck-mallard hybrids. This suggests that mixed species matings are more common than winter pairing behavior suggests. Perhaps repairing or forced copulation at northern breeding sites explain the discrepancy between the low occurrence of mixed species pairs in the winter in Maryland and the actual frequency of hybrids. Our pairing data clearly contradict the findings of Brodsky and Weatherhead from 1984, which suggest that as soon as the last female mallards had paired the remaining unmated drake mallards would then intensively court and form mixed species pair bonds with hen black ducks.

Our telemetry studies showed that released mallards rarely moved more than a few miles during the six months after release, during which time there was about 80% mortality. Pairing data revealed that captive-reared mallards preferentially mated with other captive-reared birds; likewise wild birds preferentially mated with wild mallards. This means that most captive-reared mallards in Maryland were shot or died long before the breeding season, they rarely moved far from their release site and the great majority of the time were on intensively managed Regulated Shooting Areas, and they preferentially form pairs with other released mallards. Accordingly, there is little probability that mallards released in Maryland increase the rates of hybridization with black ducks. Mallard releases in other eastern states have resulted in greater dispersal. For instance, 31% of band recoveries from mallards released in Pennsylvania were from out-of-state.

In summary, our intensive research on Maryland’s eastern shore revealed almost no information to suggest that the large-scale state and private releases of captive-reared mallards cause serious problems for black ducks by increasing hybridization rates or facilitating competition. Of course, the situation with released mallards is quite different in North and South Carolina, but it is also clear that wintering black ducks are far less abundant that in the Chesapeake Bay wetland. Concerns over the possible adverse impact of released mallards on black ducks could easily be addressed in North and South Carolina, by studying pair formation during the winter and spring months.

A Guide to Waterfowl Bands

If you had a choice between shooting a nice 8 point whitetail or a banded duck which would you choose?   For me and most avid waterfowl hunters that’s an easy question to answer a banded duck.   Shooting a banded duck is something special that many waterfowl hunters never get to experience in their lifetime.   Only a very small percentage of the waterfowl population is banded and an even smaller percentage of those that are banded get harvested.  This is what makes a banded bird so special.   When most hunters think of banded waterfowl however they immediately think of the shiny silver bands that go around the legs.   This is only one of the many types of bands that are used to mark waterfowl.   Neck collars, nasal markers, colored leg bands, web tags, patagial markers and radio/GPS trackers are other types of  bands  used to mark birds.

​The most common type of band is the silver leg band that most waterfowl hunters are familiar with.   A common misconception with these bands is that the bird was banded in Laurel Maryland because many of the bands say Avise Bird Band Laurel, Maryland. Laurel Maryland is the location of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) headquarters where all of the bird bands are issued from.   From there individuals across the country band the birds and report the data back to the USGS.   In order to get the location of where the bird was banded, how old it is and who banded it you must call the band in at 1-800-327-BAND.   Many hunters, including myself, wear these bands on their call lanyards as a type of trophy just as a deer hunter might ride a nice set of antlers around in his truck.   This type of band is made from aluminum and comes in different sizes depending on the type of bird that is being banded.   The bands range in size from as small as a hummingbird band to as large as a size 14 swan band.   Most hunters are familiar with mallard bands which are a size 7A.   Other common bands are size 5 which are used on blue-wing teal and wood ducks.   Doves, Quail and green-wing teal use a size 4 while Canadian geese use a size 8.   Each year around 350,000 ducks and geese are banded across the United States and Canada.   Of those 350,000 only about 88,000 are recovered each year.   This means that each year less than 0.8% of all ducks and geese are banded and less than 0.2% are recovered.

​The next most familiar band to waterfowl hunters are neck collars.   Neck collars are made of plastic and are normally colored with a series of 3 or 4 letters, numbers or symbols.   The different colored collars typically represent a different region in which the bird was collared.   Orange collars are put on geese that come from the Canadian region of the Mississippi flyway such as Ontario and Manitoba while blue collars are used in the United States portion of the Mississippi flyway.   Other common colors include white (typically Atlantic flyway), green (used in the Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana region) and red (used in the central and pacific flyways).   Collars are used so that researchers can easily see and read the numbers on the collar with a pair of binoculars without capturing or killing the bird.   This makes it easier to track the migration pattern of geese up and down the flyway.


In recent years many studies have been done using various types of radio telemetry and GPS.   These devices are generally attached to neck collars and used in studies where waterfowl travel great distances.   I was fortunate enough to be involved with one of these studies while I was an undergraduate at Michigan State University.   We radio collared several Canadian geese and GPS collared 3 or 4 birds.   The study was used to determine the molt migration patterns of the geese in the spring.   Radio collars are several hundred dollars each while the GPS collars cost thousands of dollars each.   We would track the movements of the geese several times a week both from the ground, by airplane and by satellite.   After several months most of the geese had migrated up towards Hudson Bay in Canada and the graduate student in charge of the study finished his work by airplane in Canada.

​Nasal markers are another type of band used by researchers to mark individual birds.   They are typically made of plastic and are used widely in local breeding surveys.   These markers typically have only two letters or numbers on them since the populations that are being studied are small.   The two pieces of plastic are attached together with a wire or a piece of string through the nasal cavity.   Since many ducks do not have nasal walls this is a non-invasive procedure.   At the end of the study the ducks are recaptured and the bands taken off but obviously not all of them can be captured all of the time.   I personally have not taken a bird with a nasal marker or know of anyone who has taken one.   Since the connection between the plastic is either wire or string it is likely that many of the markers fall out within a year of being put in place.   Now you may ask if these markers effect the survival of the ducks and the answer is no.   Many studies have been done to look at the survival of ducks with these markers and it has been found that the survival rate non-marked ducks is the same as marked ducks.

​Colored leg bands are used much in the same way as neck collars are used.   They are larger than the average metal leg band but smaller than a neck collar.   They have a series of 2 or 3 letters and numbers on them which is read easily from a distance.   They are made of plastic and many times break off after only a few years.   Snow geese are the most common waterfowl that have these types of bands but they are used on ducks and Canadian geese as well.   Since snow geese breed in large numbers in the boreal regions of Canada, colored leg bands are much easier to read than other types of markers.   Red, yellow and black are common colors used for these types of leg bands.

​Web tags are used on waterfowl that are too young to receive traditional leg bands.   Many studies that track growth and survival of ducklings use web tags to track the birds.   Putting a leg band on a duckling can be very dangerous.   Using a band that is to big will increase the chances of the duckling getting caught up in vegetation or debris which will in turn increase the mortality rate.   On the other hand putting a band on that is to small will physically damage the bird when its leg outgrows the band.   For these reasons a small metal clip is put into the webbing of the feet which has a number on one side to identify the bird and initials on the other to identify the bander.   If the bird is recaptured as an adult a metal leg band will be added to accompany the web tag.

​The last type of band used is a patagial tag.   This tag is attached to the wing of a bird usually at the main joint in the wing.   Although most of them are made of plastic there are some that are made of aluminum.   The ones made of plastic are very visible and are commonly used on birds of prey but are also used on swans.   Metal patagial tags are used in some types of waterfowl but are not very common.   Typically only diving ducks are tagged with patagial tags and many studies have shown that these types of tags have a negative effect on ducks.

As you can see there is much more to banding than just the typical metal leg band.   Each type of band has a specific use and therefore is utilized in different situations.   Whatever the type of band they are all very important in studying the movements and migration patterns of waterfowl.   Any time you see a bird with a band on it be sure to report it to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) center by calling 1-800-327-BAND or go to their website at  www.usgs.gov.   The next time you go hunting and the dog brings your duck or goose back, be sure to check not just for a leg band but for all types of markers.