Wing survey helps wildlife agency track waterfowl

Harris Woodsby (left) and Chris Rumpf with a stray heroine.

Of the 1 million or so waterfowl in this country, the federal government is so confident in my duck hunting talents that they regularly recruit me to participate in the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s Waterfowl Parts Collection Survey, and I’m happy to answer the call.

Also known as a wing survey, each season the USFWS requests a sample of hunters to send one wing from each duck they release. The wings are carefully clipped off the bird and mailed to Laurel, Maryland for further examination. If this all sounds like a ruse akin to kidnappers shipping a severed pinky toe to extort a ransom from a wealthy benefactor, well, we get mail-paid Manila envelopes but no monetary compensation for our efforts.

That’s fine, though, because this has greater purposes, beyond the humor of wondering if our postman realizes what he’s carrying in his bag after whistling away from my doorstep. Once they reach Maryland safely, their wing feathers are examined by federal and state biologists where they determine the type, sex, and ages of specimens provided. This data helps the agency estimate the number of birds of different species in the year’s harvest as well as show the trend of crops over time and locations.