On a pleasant summer morning, 26 young birders, parents, and grand parents gathered at Hawkeye Wildlife Area near Iowa City for a unique and exciting opportunity to band Wood Ducks. Our knowledgeable and very experienced leaders were Tom Billerbeck, Dave Kutz, and Dave Nicholson with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Tom, Dave, and Dave assist with the Iowa DNR’s banding program each year, banding mostly Wood Ducks, Mourning Doves, and Canada Geese. Waiting for us, although not so patiently, were 12 Wood Ducks in a handmade transport cage that resembled a small pet carrier. The birds immediately caught our attention and sparked excitement among the group, so we wasted no time kicking off what would surely be a memorable morning for all!
We first learned all about banding birds, including the different types of bird bands used and the information we can gain from banding birds. While sharing this great information with us, Tom showed a map of locations where Wood Ducks that were banded at Hawkeye Wildlife Area and nearby Otter Creek Marsh have been found. Birds banded in Iowa were recovered as far north as Canada and as far south as the Gulf Coast! We were also taught how to properly and safely hold Wood Ducks for banding. Equipped with this information, we were ready to band some ducks! Tom, Dave, and Dave carefully and skillfully extracted the nervous ducks from the box, placing each in the hands of an eager young birder for holding prior to banding. Dave K. then placed a uniquely-numbered metal band on each bird, at least those that were not keen enough to escape, before they were released. It was 30 minutes of pure excitement!
We finished the morning with a hike around Hawkeye Wildlife Area, which included a stop at the trapping site where we observed and learned about the trapping methods used to capture Wood Ducks (which also includes setting separate traps to capture bait-thieving critters such as raccoons). Continuing on our hike, we observed several great birds including multiple singing Sedge Wrens, one of which provided us with great views perched high in the grassland. We also heard a singing Eastern Towhee and Bell’s Vireo and saw an Osprey soaring at a distance. Before heading back to the vehicles, Tom spoke with us about early-successional habitat management and the birds that benefit from such management including Northern Bobwhite and Field Sparrow. We’re always learn a ton when we have experts like Tom join us!
We’re extremely grateful to Tom, Dave, and Dave with the Iowa DNR for teaching us about bird banding and for keeping some cooperative Wood Ducks for us. Thanks also to Annalise Skrade and Kathy Solko for capturing some great photos of our fun morning. And as always, thanks to those who joined us! You can view photos from our morning here and our species list here.