Wing survey helps wildlife agency keep track of waterfowl

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Harris Woodsby (left) and Chris Rumph are with a feral mallard.

Of the million or so waterfowlers in this country, the federal government is so assured in my duck hunting talents that they regularly recruit me to participate in the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Waterfowl Parts Collection Survey, and I am happy to answer the call.

Also known as the Wing Survey, each season the USFWS solicits a sample of hunters to submit one wing from each duck that they shoot. The wings are carefully clipped from the bird and mailed to Laurel, Maryland for further examination. If all of this sounds like a stunt similar to kidnappers shipping a severed pinky toe to extort a ransom from a wealthy benefactor, well, we get postage-paid manila envelopes but no financial compensation for our efforts.

That’s fine, though, as this has larger purposes, beyond my humor in wondering if our mailman realizes what he’s toting in his satchel after he whistles away from my doorstep. Once safely in Maryland, the wing feathers are examined by state and federal biologists where they determine the species, sex, and age of the submitted specimens. This data helps the agency estimate the number of birds of different species in this year’s harvest as well as show how harvests trend over time and locations.