Monday I sent two envelopes containing a wing from each of the ducks that I killed while hunting last weekend, to the Harvest Surveys Section of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) in Laurel, Maryland. Each year the USFWS asks a sample of waterfowl hunters from across Maine and the rest of the country to send them a wing from each duck or coot, and tail feathers and wing tips from each goose that the hunter personally shoots while hunting in the U.S. After the duck seasons are over, biologists carefully examine the wings and tail feathers to identify the species of waterfowl killed as well as the sex and age of each individual. From this sample they can estimate the number of male and female, adult and young-of-the-year, of each species of duck and goose killed in each state.
This information allows us to better understand the population status and reproductive success of each species of waterfowl. For example, of the 153,500 black ducks killed in the U.S. during the 1999-2000 hunting season, 111,400 were from the Atlantic Flyway (generally, from Maine to New York, and south to Florida), with the remaining portion being from the Mississippi Flyway. The estimate of Maine waterfowlers' contribution to the harvest was 11,400, or 10% of the AF retrieved kill. The age ratio of black ducks killed in Maine in 1999 was 1.4 young per adult; these data can be compared among years to ascertain trends or anomalies in waterfowl reproductive success. As you might imagine, the larger the sample of participating hunters who send in wings, the "better" or more precise the estimates of harvest and productivity will be.
Another survey in which waterfowl hunters may participate is the annual mail survey sent to a sample of Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation stamp (check out the website - http://www.fws.gov/r9dso/), or "duck" stamp purchasers after the end of the waterfowl hunting seasons. The mail survey asks questions about one's hunting activity throughout the season, and provides wildlife managers with additional information on the number of days spent hunting waterfowl, and the number of ducks and geese killed. In the future, if you are asked to participate in a waterfowl harvest survey, please consider doing so. Your voluntary participation improves our ability to understand and conserve waterfowl populations, and besides, it's just plain interesting - each participant in the parts survey receives a report on species, age, and sex of all the waterfowl parts he or she sent in.
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