Many wing-shooters, especially those with years of hunting experience, would likely share the story of harvesting a banded bird as one of hunting’s greatest memories. Some hunters might pursue doves, ducks, or other game birds their entire lives without ever holding an aluminum leg band in their hands. Still, others may be fortunate enough to have a lanyard covered with these trophies. In addition to becoming prized possessions, bands serve an important role by providing a wealth of information about the birds that wear them and the hunters who pursue them.

Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP) has actively banded migratory birds through-out its history. Most of them are game birds that are important to Mississippi hunters, such as wood ducks, mourning doves, and mallards. Banding helps to understand things such as how long a bird lives, how many birds are harvested, and migration and dispersal patterns. The data helps the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and state wildlife agencies like MDWFP develop sound hunting regulations and gain useful information to improve management.

How Banding Works

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) provides all per-mitted banders with numbered bands of the correct size for the species they intend to band. All are inscribed with contact information for reporting the band. Depending on the age of the band, this could be a telephone number, mailing address, website address, or a combination of these (most of the currently used bands include the website In addition to the reporting information, each band also has a unique band identification number. When biologists place one of these small aluminum bands on a captured bird’s leg, they record the band number, bird species, age, sex, and the location and date of banding. All of the banding data are provided to the BBL, which enters it into a central database. This central database holds all of the information from every bird banded by a permitted bander.

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When banded (or “marked”) birds are released, they become potential data sources to be collected by hunters or birdwatchers who might encounter them. Biologists sometimes use other marking methods in addition to the standard aluminum leg band. Other common markers include neck collars, nasal markers, dyes, colored leg bands, web tags, radio (or satellite) transmitters, and wing markers. Sometimes ducks or doves can have two bands, one of which could be a reward band. The USFWS began using reward bands decades ago to encourage hunters to report the bands they recovered. Original reward bands were worth $2, but now some of them are worth as much as $100. Reward bands are now used to determine the rate hunters report bands, which helps the USFWS and state agencies estimate harvest rates.

Waterfowl Banding

Hunters know that waterfowl are highly mobile and wide-ranging. Similarly, band-ing efforts are distributed widely across the continent and throughout the year in an attempt to mark a representative sample of the wild population. Most banded waterfowl harvested by hunters are banded during the late summer period while on or near the breeding grounds of the U.S. and Canadian prairies. MDWFP assists with these efforts through membership in the Mississippi Flyway Council, which provides funding and staffing to accomplish banding goals annually in southern Canada.

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Banding waterfowl during late summer allows biologists to identify places where ducks nest and their migratory routes to the wintering grounds. For instance, a mallard identified as a newly hatched male (known as a Hatch Year Male) and banded on a prairie wetland in Saskatchewan in early August could be harvested by a hunter in the flooded timber of O’Keefe WMA in the Mississippi Delta in late January. If the hunter reports the band to the BBL, then the harvest data is recorded and can be paired with the banding location information. Through many years of hunter co-operation in data reporting, MDWFP has learned that portions of Saskatchewan are extremely important to Mississippi water-fowl hunters, as these areas produce many of the ducks harvested in the state. Knowing which areas contribute large numbers of ducks to Mississippi allows MDWFP to allocate funding annually from the sale of state waterfowl stamps to conserve waterfowl breeding habitat in Saskatchewan. This targeted habitat delivery, funded by Mississippi waterfowl hunters, helps to ensure harvestable populations for the future.

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In some years, MDWFP and USFWS band waterfowl during winter to maintain further sustainable waterfowl populations. MDW-FP biologists and partners have banded approximately 13,000 mallards in Mississippi since 1949. The peak of MDWFP winter banding occurred during the 1970s and into the 1980s. Winter banding helps to understand better how vulnerable waterfowl are during winter, and thus determine their survival rate during the wintering period (and hunting season). For instance, if survival of these winter-banded birds is low, that can suggest there is not enough high-quality waterfowl habitat in the Mississippi Delta. Also, capturing mallards on the breeding grounds that were banded in Mississippi during the previous winter helps pinpoint key waterfowl breeding areas and populations important to hunters.

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Resident Wood Duck Banding

There is no doubt that wood duck banding is extremely important to Mississippi hunters. The state’s swamps and bottom-land hardwood forests produce many wood ducks, but, until recently, it was not known how much hunting pressure this important resource could sustain. During the busy months of July-September, MDWFP biologists, WMA managers, and conservation officers worked diligently to band wood ducks on WMAs and private lands throughout the state. In 2008, this hard work was rewarded.18 ms outdoors nov dec proof 3 MDWFP News

After many years of data collection, analysis, and cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mississippi Flyway states (including Mississippi) received approval to allow an extra wood duck in each state’s daily bag limit. The Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks took advantage of this opportunity and increased the wood duck daily bag limit from two to three birds per hunter. This was great news to Mississippi duck hunters in general, as this species is usually near the top of the statewide harvest every year. For areas outside of the Mississippi Delta region of the state, this increase in the wood duck bag limit was extremely important.

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Resident Mourning Dove Banding

Mourning dove banding also occurs statewide during the summer months. MDWFP biologists attract birds to open areas with repeated feedings. After the birds become used to finding grain in the area, funnel traps are placed over the top of the food source. Each trap, made out of wire mesh, has two entrances that open inward, and once the birds are inside, the hole narrows so they can’t escape. Biologists record data, band the birds, and release them immediately.

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Hunters should inspect harvested doves closely to check for leg bands. Those fortunate enough to harvest banded doves are strongly encouraged to report the information by visiting the website on the band. Similar to waterfowl banding, the data collected from doves banded in Mississippi (i.e., age and sex of the bird and site of banding) helps track when they move and where there go. It also provides estimates of survival and harvest rates. This information then allows MDWFP to improve dove management in Mississippi.

The information obtained by band reporting is critical to maintaining harvestable populations of waterfowl and mourning doves and improving their habitat in Mississippi and throughout North America. The next time you share a hunt with someone on a dove field or in a duck blind, take time to educate them on the importance of banding and band reporting. For more information on MDWFP’s waterfowl management efforts, visit

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Houston Havens is MDWFP Waterfowl Program Coordinator.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>