Three ducks in the bag
Cole Romero holds a limit of Atchafalaya Basin wood ducks.
But it wasn’t without angst and some gut-wrenching moments when biologists felt the species could withstand the additional harvest pressure before moving forward on the decision.
Point of fact, according to Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries Waterfowl Study Leader Larry Reynolds, there is no reliable population survey of wood ducks.
And, unlike the prairie breeding ground surveys conducted annually on other species of ducks, wood ducks live in trees and their distribution is widespread, with both migrating and resident populations.
"We fly every single year hundreds of thousands of miles of transects," Reynolds said. "We’ve got ground crews to create visibility correction factors. We’ve got one of the finest wildlife surveys on the face of the earth to estimate the population size of the ducks we harvest.
"But we can’t do it for wood ducks because of the habitats they use and the broad distribution of the species."
Without reliable population estimates, biologists have had to rely on extensive banding programs year after year to manage the species
"Banding is this incredible tool," Reynolds said. "When most people think about banding, they think of spatial distribution — where birds are banded versus where they’re recovered. But, the major value we get from banding is we can estimate the survival rate. We can also estimate the harvest rate.
"And, we can look at population dynamics of these birds in response to management actions."
Through a complex set of matrices that include survival and harvest rates, band recovery and reporting data, bag check data, a variety of indexes derived from breeding-bird surveys and Christmas bird counts that show a growing population, USFWS waterfowl managers determined the wood duck population could stand a third bird in a hunter’s bag limit, thus increasing harvest opportunity.
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