Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Duck Banding
Nature Bulletin No. 474-A    December 9, 1972
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

Tremendous flocks of wild ducks and geese used to darken the skies when they migrated each spring and fall. Untold numbers were killed for the markets. Finally, it was made illegal to hunt waterfowl in spring and to sell or buy them. Regulations were placed upon when they might be hunted in autumn and upon the number of each species that might be killed by a hunter.

In spite of such conservation measures, the waterfowl populations have continued to dwindle. Year after year, more and more of their nesting grounds in the marshes and wetlands of Canada and our northern states have been drained or otherwise destroyed. During migrations they find fewer and fewer places to rest and feed. Further, the number of hunters has increased until, now, over two million Americans buy the federal duck stamp which allows them to shoot ducks and geese. About half of those sportsmen hunt in the so-called Mississippi Flyway where the greatest numbers of waterfowl funnel down from the northern breeding areas toward their winter homes in the south.

The largest concentrations of migrating waterfowl occur in Illinois, and many of them pass over or stop in Cook County which seems to be a crossroad for ducks as well as for people. They use, as refuges, nearly a hundred shallow weedy waters in our forest preserves, ranging in size from one to over 300 acres. On one of the largest, McGinnis Slough adjacent to Orland Park, in cooperation with the Illinois Naturalist History Survey, we banded wild ducks during the eight years from 1940 to 1947. From August 1st until the final freeze-up each year, six large cage-traps were kept baited with grain and visited one or more times daily. A numbered aluminum band, furnished by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was placed on the left leg of each bird when first trapped. After the band number, species, sex, age and weight were recorded, the bird was released and the record sent to Washington, D.C.

Approximately 35,000 including 16 species were banded: mostly mallard, blue-winged teal, black duck, coot, pintail, wood duck and ring-necked duck, in that order. Such data, and the subsequent reports of the kill or capture of banded ducks, provide vital information about their numbers, habits, travels, what happens to them, and what hunting regulations are needed to insure that no species will suffer too much and none become extinct.

Several thousand of the ducks we banded were reported as killed by hunters -- probably far less than the actual number. About 40 percent of those reports came from Illinois; 20 percent from Cook and Will counties. The majority of all reports were from states in the Mississippi valley. More than half were of mallards which, before they get wary, seem to be most vulnerable during their first fall migration. The Fish and Wildlife Service received reports of "our" ducks killed by hunters throughout the western hemisphere north of the equator, including the Atlantic and Pacific coastal states and one mallard in Yukon, Alaska.

Our banding demonstrated that most of the little blue-winged teal, after nesting in Canada, Minnesota or Wisconsin, migrate southeast toward Georgia or Florida and thence, by way of the West Indies, to South America. Most coots appear to fly east to the Atlantic coast and then southward.

A few of the ducks we handled lived as much as 10, 12 and 14 years afterward but the "champeen" was a mallard banded when adult on October 29, 1940, and shot in the marshes near Monroe, Louisiana, in December, 1955.

That tough old bird must have traveled more than 100,000 miles.

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