The Great Canadian Waterfowl Wingbee

by Mar 20, 2020Conservation

The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation includes seven tenants, two of which state:

  • Wildlife species are considered an international resource.
    Some species, such as migratory birds, cross national boundaries. Treaties such as the Migratory Bird Treaty and CITES recognize a shared responsibility to manage these species across national boundaries.
  • Science is the proper tool for discharge of wildlife policy.
    In order to manage wildlife as a shared resource fairly, objectively, and knowledgeably, decisions must be based on sound science such as annual waterfowl population surveys and the work of professional wildlife biologists.

In North America, the Migratory Bird Convention, which was ratified in 1916, is a wildlife conservation treaty between the United States of America and Canada. This treaty is one of the greatest conservation successes in North American history because it recognizes that the long-term survival of migratory birds relies on a continent-wide approach to conservation. A significant proportion of North America’s waterfowl breed and nest in Canada and winter in the Southern United States and Mexico. Their epic use of the continent makes migratory birds the poster species that exemplifies the concept of managing wildlife as an international resource.

The Canadian Wildlife Service has the responsibility for managing the hunting of migratory birds in Canada including ducks and geese. The Service, in collaboration with provincial and territorial wildlife agencies, is tasked with updating the annual migratory game bird hunting regulations and regional bag limits. In keeping with the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation the Canadian Wildlife Service regulates waterfowl hunting based on the latest science regarding waterfowl populations and the health of each species.

The Canadian Wildlife Service engages the help of Canadian waterfowl hunters to help with this science. Each year, about 45,000 Harvest Questionnaire Surveys are sent out to waterfowl hunters across Canada and the annual Species Composition Survey is also completed. The Species Composition Survey collects information about duck and geese populations from the wings and feathers that hunters mail in. The Harvest Questionnaire Survey and the Species Composition Survey are a part of Canada’s National Harvest Survey which was started in 1967. These two surveys along with other scientific research on critical habitats, breeding areas, wintering areas and populations form the foundation of what wildlife managers need to manage waterfowl hunting in our country as well as uphold Canada’s obligation under the Migratory Bird Convention to protect and conserve migratory birds.

Canadian hunters mail in approximately 15,000 duck and geese wings and tail feathers each year for the Species Composition Survey. There is an annual event called the “Wingbee” that brings together experts from the Canadian Wildlife Service and other wildlife agencies to sort, identify and classify the wings and feathers that hunters have submitted. The objective of the Wingbee is to identify species, age and the sex of the waterfowl harvested by hunters across Canada. The data collected help waterfowl managers assess and track:

• Species composition of the hunter harvest which helps wildlife managers understand the relative abundance of waterfowl game birds.
• Population structures of waterfowl game birds including age and sex ratios which are used to track long-term trends and productivity of waterfowl populations.
• Geographic distribution of hunting.
• Regional variation in hunting activity.
• Areas where birds moult.
• The scale of hunting and its impact on bird populations.
• How hunting regulations will affect hunter harvest and game bird populations.

The most common species identified in the annual Canadian Wingbee are:

• Mallards
• American Black Ducks
• Wood Ducks
• Green-winged Teal
• Canada and snow goose

The results of the Wingbee provide the information for the Species Composition Survey which are published in the annual population reports on migratory game birds in Canada. These published reports are referenced during the annual hunting regulation review and they are also used for reporting hunter harvest to the four North American Flyway Councils which fulfills another part of Canada’s obligations under the Migratory Bird Convention.

If you are a waterfowl hunter or plan to become one this year, I encourage you to participate in the 2020 Species Composition Survey by mailing in wings and tails from your ducks and geese. To do this, be sure to reply to the email you receive after buying your migratory game bird hunting permit this year that asks if you want to participate in the Species Composition Survey. When you opt in you will get a package of mailer envelopes to submit your wings and feathers in.

When you hear the phrases, “hunting contributes to conservation” or “hunters support science” they include Canadian waterfowl hunters who have been contributing to conservation and supporting wildlife science for the last half a century by participating in the National Harvest Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Habitat Conservation Stamp program which I explain in this article.

Help support migratory bird conservation by becoming a waterfowl hunter in 2020. You mail in your wings and tails but you keep all that wild organic duck and goose meat! That is a win-win in my books.

Cover Image Credit: Copyright © MikeFusaro / Adobe Stock

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