By Tom Cannon
Most waterfowl hunters are familiar with the word “band”. It is the one four letter word that will actually put a smile on the face of the grumpiest hunter. Likewise; the word band has evolved into many other slang catch words such as; jewelry, silver, ring, wrapper, as well as several other regional tags.
Maybe you have seen the glimmer of a silver band on a goose leg at the park or observed a hunter wearing lanyard weighed down with several bands and calls. A friend even has one of his bands on a keyring. Let me tell you they are prized possessions!
A little history of bird bands may interest those not aware of the history and purpose. One of the first people to band waterfowl; or for that matter any bird; was Jack Miner. He was a poor farm boy, with little education living in Ontario, Canada. In 1909, he placed his first aluminum band onto the leg of a duck. Miner stamped that band with a Bible verse and his information. As the story goes, five months later it was recovered by a hunter in South Carolina. Jack Miner had just had the first successful recovered and reported band in history. He repeated the process thousands more times before his death.
Researchers and biologists began to follow suit after releasing this was the perfect way to track migrating birds. They could prove without a doubt the flight pattern of ducks and geese and use this to increase knowledge of the species. Biologists later used the information to set seasons and limits. Likewise, the process began taking place worldwide. Banded birds have been recovered in continents other than where they were initially banded. Ducks banded in Russia and Japan have been recovered in the United States!
Initially the person viewing or recovering the band had to write the information down and submit it via mail to Washington, D.C. Months later that person would typically get a nice certificate back in the mail listing the date and location of the band and approximately how old the bird was, species, and sex.
Currently with modern technology the recovering person can simply call 800-327-BAND, or visit the site, www.Reportband.gov and follow the simple steps listed. Normally the band information will be listed upon the successful entry of the recovery information. Unfortunately certificates are no longer mailed out, but the recovery person is given the option of printing the information out themselves in a certificate form.
Hunters or bird watchers might wonder just what percentages of birds are banded. I found that in 2001 researchers’ banded 222,006 ducks of the thirty to forty million estimated population. Of those 48,576 were recovered and reported. Thus only tiny percentages are ever recovered.
Thus it is a rare and significant feat when a sportsman does bag a banded bird. I know experienced hunters who have never accomplished this, yet others who have dozens. It matters not the skill of the hunter but often the region or flyway. Some areas winter more fowl than others and certain species are banded more than others. Areas of larger concentrations of waterfowl obviously will have higher odds of having some banded birds among them.
Bands bring out the best and worst in people. Some hunters measure their hunting success by the number of bands they have collected. Unfortunately that can lead to poor sportsmanship to say the least. Once the phrase “there is a band on that bird” gets mentioned everyone in the immediate area often lays claim to it.
Many hunters showcase their bands on the lanyards holding their game calls. Heck I have even seen hunters put bands on their retriever’s dog collar! There is also another school of hunters who cherish the band but don’t wear them in public, merely collect them somewhere at home – but it’s obviously a personal choice.
Fortunately not all hunters fall into this mentality. Some often give bands away to young or novice hunters and professional guides often submit them to clients. Nothing brightens the day of a hunter more than that little aluminum strip of metal!
The power of that little strip of metal is evident as it is often used in many waterfowling conversations. When asked how one did, the question of conditions, numbers of birds taken and quite often if any bands were found is asked. Likewise a good natured rubbing can be tossed around when a hunter misses a bird. “Man I can’t believe you missed that easy shot – I think I saw a band on that bird! “
No the measure of success is not how many bands one has, nor does it predict future success or hunting ability. The band does help increase knowledge of the birds that inhabit our world. The more we know, the better we can manage and protect our resources so that future generations can enjoy them as well. Still, nothing raises the spirits of a wet, weary and worn out hunter quite like the sight of your dog bringing to hand a banded bird!