8 / OutdoorIllinois September 2011
Story by Tim Krumwiede
Photos By Adele Hodde
Every waterfowl hunter knows
the routine. Prior to heading out
the door each morning, one
must go through a mental check-list
of gear that may be needed in
order to be prepared for a suc-cessful
hunt. With new gadgets and
apparel coming out each year, it is no
wonder that blind bags keep getting
For one outing, however, standard
waterfowling equipment is not a requi-site.
Instead of a favorite shotgun, long-handled
dip nets are needed. Instead of
shells and calls, you pack head lamps
and insect repellent. And add in spot-lights,
holding crates, data sheets, bird
bands, banding pliers and hearing pro-tection.
That’s right, hearing protec-tion.
The most specialized piece of
equipment for biologists hunting ducks
in the dark is an airboat.
Each summer, Department of Natur-al
Resources biologists throughout the
state dedicate a portion of their time
to capturing wood ducks as part of the
North American Bird Banding Pro-gram.
Since its inception in 1920, this
program has provided biologists a
valuable tool to monitor and evaluate
Information obtained from band-return
data is especially critical for the
management of the wood duck—a
duck whose breeding range extends
across much of the continental United
States. Annual aerial waterfowl surveys
counting breeding pairs and broods,
and monitoring wetland conditions in
the Prairie Pothole region of the U.S.
and Canada, are of little value for wood
duck managers. Unlike other species of
waterfowl, wood duck biology dictates
that they spend the majority of their
time in water with woody, overhead
cover, conditions not effectively sur-veyed
from the air.
The peak of wood duck trapping
and banding occurs in late summer
when the new hatchlings become
fledged (flight capable) and birds begin
to congregate prior to the fall migra-tion.
Because wood duck habitats differ
across the state and are subject to annu-al
changes due to water levels, biolo-gists
employ several methods to cap-ture
birds: baited swim-in traps, can-non-
netting and capturing the birds at
night from an airboat.
Using an airboat at night is an effi-cient
means of capturing woodies
because the boat can glide across dense
vegetation which would bind up the
prop on an outboard motor. This
method is preferred in many instances
because it requires no time to bait a site
or erect a trap, and night capture elimi-nates
the concern of losing trapped
birds to a predator, such as a raccoon.
The airboat technique is effective at
catching wood ducks at the Merwin Pre-serve
at Spunky Bottoms, a 1,200-acre
tract of bottomland habitat downstream
from the LaGrange Lock and Dam in
Brown County owned and managed by
The Nature Conservancy. Adjacent to
the Illinois River and part of a levee and
drainage district, TNC discontinued
pumping of the former agricultural
fields, creating a thriving wetland com-plex
supporting a profusion of submer-gent
and emergent vegetation, and sub-sequently
an abundance of migratory
and resident wildlife. The levee protects
the preserve from flooding of the Illinois
River, allowing for relatively stable water
levels, improved water clarity and mini-mizing
river silt from entering the site.
Vast expanses of aquatic plants are
the reason wood ducks choose the site
as a late-summer night roost. American
lotus and smartweed plants provide
overhead cover and protection from
predators and are key to attracting the
However, most predators don’t come
equipped with a 350 Chevy engine,
spotlights and long-handled dip nets.
As darkness falls, whistling of wings
and familiar squeals tip biologists off
that wood ducks are returning to the
roost. Moving the boat through the
darkened vegetation, the first clue that
the quarry may be present is the move-ment
of water and vegetation, although
sometimes movements are no more
than red-winged blackbirds flushing or
a muskrat swimming ahead of the boat.
When it is confirmed that ducks are
present, the boat driver attempts to put
netters in position to swipe up a duck
as it ducks and dives through vegeta-tion,
disappearing and reappearing as it
swims away. Like hitting a curve ball,
timing is everything, and many times
each night netters are strikeout victims.
Persistence pays off, and by the end
of a successful night, crates full of
birds are taken back at the boat ramp
where they are aged, sexed, leg band-ed
and set free. With data sheets pre-pared
and sent to the Federal Bird
Banding Laboratory in Maryland,
another phase of the annual survey of
the wood duck is complete.
Tim Krumwiede is a DNR district
wildlife biologist and stationed in the
Pittsfield office. He can be reached at
(217) 285-2221 or tim.krumwiede@
Planning a visit
Access to the Nature Conservancy’s
Merwin Preserve at Spunky Bot-toms,
between County Highway
12/LaGrange Locks Road and the Illi-nois
River in Brown County, is restrict-ed
due to restoration activities, on-going
scientific research and a public
waterfowl hunting program. For addi-tional
information or permission to visit
the area, contact the Conservancy’s
office in Lewistown at (309) 547-2730.
The Spunky Bottoms Unit owned
by DNR is managed for hunting and
additional information is available by
contacting Weinberg-King State Park
staff at (217) 392-2345.
2,710 birds were banded in 2010
from 18 counties
355 returns were received from
birds banded in Illinois from 2007-
2009, with birds harvested in 21 states
and one Canadian province
98 (27 percent) birds were harvested
in Illinois and nearly as many (86) were
harvested in Louisiana; 41were harvest-ed
in Mississippi and 40 in Arkansas
wood ducks banded in Illinois
have been harvested from New York
September 2011 OutdoorIllinois / 9
Huntin’Ducks in the Dark
Wood ducks located in the vegeta-tion
are scooped up and placed in
a crate. At the end of the evening,
birds are banded and released.
Where dense, aquatic vegetation
exists, biologists often employ an
airboat for capturing wood ducks.
Information from returned
bands is used in developing wood
duck management plans.
wood duck population
requires biologists using
a specialized sampling
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