Banding at Pahranagat

Releasing banded ducks

USFWS staff have been hard at work duck banding this year. What is banding, and why do they do it? Find out here!

Get up at 4:30 AM. Bundle up – the mornings are cold. Sit motionless in a duck blind for over an hour, being careful not to make any noise that might scare away the ducks. Using binoculars, watch the waterfowl flock slowly grow larger and larger around the pile of bait grain. When the time is finally right, push a button to detonate a rocket-powered net over a huge mixed flock of waterfowl. Run as fast as you can into the freezing water to remove ducks from under the net. Be careful not to trip over the net, the thick mud, or your clumsy rubber boots. As you untangle ducks from the net, place them into straw-lined holding cages. The birds will be safe there as they wait for their shiny new aluminum ankle bands. Attach the ankle bands and record the birds’ species, sex, and age. Then release the ducks back into their habitat, bewildered but otherwise unharmed.

If this sounds like fun to you, you might enjoy a spot on Pahranagat NWR’s banding crew! This year, over 350 Cinnamon teal have been banded, along with 85 Green-winged teal and a smattering of Northern pintails, Mallards, and Gadwalls. Check out a video of Pahranagat’s banding crew in action here.

Each year, thousands of waterfowl are banded at refuges and wildlife areas all over North America. The information is compiled in a huge database. When hunters harvest a banded duck, they report the band number and the location of harvest. This grants wildlife conservation professionals a wealth of information about birds’ survivorship, migratory patterns, and habitat selection.

This year banding efforts have been focused on Cinnamon teal. Pahranagat refuge manager Rob Vinson explained, “They’re an intermountain west bird. Not much is known about them: where they’re going, major migration corridors, and harvest rates.”  Research is currently underway to help biologists and wildlife conservation professionals understand more about the species. Data from banding efforts is helping to drive that research forward.

Birds banded at Pahranagat have been recovered in Mexico, Texas, California, Utah, and Oregon. Most of the Cinnamon teal banded at Pahranagat in previous years later resurfaced in the Sacramento valley grasslands of California, but much of their migration path is still unknown. As banding programs continue, more and more data will be produced. Biologists are hopeful that this can address long-unanswered questions about the ducks.

If you’d like to help with rocket netting or with other refuge management activities, Pahranagat is always looking for volunteers. Check out to look for long-term residential volunteer opportunities, or contact the refuge to ask about local volunteering.

If you’d like to support wetlands that support ducks, purchase your $25 National Duck Stamp today. 98% of proceeds from duck stamp sales go directly toward habitat acquisition. Pahranagat (and many other refuges) would not exist were it not for duck stamp proceeds. Dollar for dollar, duck stamps are the best conservation investment you can make.

Thanks for supporting your wildlife refuges in southern Nevada.