TGU-Granville students got some hands-on experience earlier this month when they helped band ducks at the J. Clark Salyer Refuge near Upham.
"This is something that we try to do every year," said high school biology teacher Tina Webb, though they had to skip a year last year because of widespread flooding that affected the refuge.
Webb said her students got to help with banding ducks, which is done to track the migration patterns of the ducks. Todd Grant, wildlife biologist for the Souris River Basin National Wildlife Refuge, showed the students how to separate the ducks by species, and how to determine the duck's gender and its approximate maturity level, all of which is information used to determine what kind of tag to use. Students watched while nets attached to a small rocket were propelled over the feeding duck, capturing them. The ducks were crated and carried over to the trucks to be tagged.
These photos, including the one below, were taken on Sept. 7 when students from TGU-Granville helped band ducks at the J. Clark Salyer Wildlife Refuge near Upham.
"We netted and banded 793 ducks," said Webb. "That was a huge, huge number."
Grant said that he and wildlife refuge staff typically band 500 to 600 ducks in a session. They will have eight banding sessions this season. Grant said the banding is done to keep track of the impact that a particular season's hunting regulations has on the duck population.
The two main species that were tagged were pintail and mallard ducks. Students also learned about the migration patterns of the ducks and how the ducks' patterns evolved to help camouflage them in the wild.
Webb said her students see now that what they care learning in class can be turned into careers. Grant said there is more interest in the field right now than there are jobs.
"We need more jobs," he said. Grant said a number of high school biology classes as well as Dakota College at Bottineau students come to the refuge to help with the duck banding and get the hands-on experience.
"For us, it's a teaching opportunity," he said, adding that some kids may hunt but duck banding gives them contact with a live bird and the chance to come into direct contact with wildlife. The experience is so special that many students mention duck banding in their senior yearbooks as one of their best experiences as a class, said Grant.
Grant said duck banding can also be a dirty experience.
"If you have a dog, they're very happy to see you at the end of the day," said Grant. "From a dog's perspective, you smell great."
The kids seemed to think it was worth it to get dirty and smelly. Sophomores in the biology class at Granville said they learned a lot by getting to go out in the field.
McKayla Thompson said she liked watching the biologists band the ducks and then getting to release the ducks back into the wild. Biologists explained that the tags on the animals will help them track the animals' migration patterns. They will learn how far the duck has flown if the bird is trapped again or shot during duck hunting season, since hunters must turn in the tags. She also learned how to tell the age of a duck.
"An immature female has an oval that rises like a doughnut and a mature female is more flat," she explained.
Grant said that male and female ducks have different coloration patterns and it is also possible to do an internal examination to determine the duck's sex. He said it is easier to tell with a male bird.
Harleigh Thompson, who is no relation to McKayla, said the class had to get up at 4 a.m. in order to get to the refuge in time for the sunrise duck banding.
"I stayed at a friend's house," she explained, which made it easier to catch the bus out to the refuge.
Harleigh said she wants to be a vocational agriculture teacher when she is older, so this sort of experience is valuable learning for her.
"I liked working with the ducks and getting the hands-on experience," she said. "They explained how to hold the ducks and how to bring (the ducks) to (the biologists)."
Paige Brodehl said she also liked learning how to determine what species of duck it was and how to tell if it was a male or female bird.
"It's a lot easier than it looks after you do it a couple of times," she said, adding that she learned more than she would have from a textbook. "Hands-on is always better."
Sophomore Nikki Mitchell said it was fun to see so many ducks together.
"I think my favorite thing was getting to see all the ducks they could catch," Nikki said. "You could see how they fluttered."
She said the nervous birds flapped their wings and a few of the students got hit in the face when they carried the birds over to the biologists to be banded, but it wasn't too bad.
Students from the natural resources class and the advanced biology class at the school also went along for the duck banding.