Martin Wernaart knows the secret life of birds and it’s all to do with a simple aluminum band around their legs.
“It tells us everything – where do they go? Where do they come from? How old are they? All of this from a little thing around their leg.”
Wernaart, who has banded thousands of birds over the years, demonstrated the practice on the Delta Waterfowl property near Vittoria on Saturday as part of Duck Day, an event that drew at least 200 people.
Wernaart knows just how to trap the ducks for banding with a bit of corn bait and a simple trap they can swim into but find it difficult to exit. He brought some of the most common ducks from this area to the banding demonstration and showed them off to an interested audience of kids and parents.
“See? This is a male mallard but it’s so young, it doesn’t have a green head yet,” Wernaart said, showing the bird around to the crowd.
After clipping the painless band to the bird’s leg, Wernaart confidently hands the duck to a youngster with instructions on how to throw the bird into the air to release it, and the delighted child lets the mallard fly off over the clearing.
The band number was carefully recorded, along with the bird’s type, sex and location.
Wernaart’s bands – and all those done by dozens of other area banders – track the birds and help moderate the number of ducks that can be hunted.
“The idea is to maintain the population,” says Wernaart. “If the number of a certain type of ducks goes down, you can’t shoot anymore.”
The bands – which are to be reported to the North American Bird Banding Program – go on all sorts of birds and provide data that helps researchers monitor the various populations. Estimates are that almost one million birds are banded each year in Canada and the United States, only about 10 per cent of the bands are recovered.
“Some of these ducks breed in Alberta, fly over the Great Lakes area here and will end up in places like South America or Cuba,” said Wernaart. “That’s a very long trip.”
Along with banding birds, Wernaart has also worked for several southern Ontario communities as a sort of bird wrangler – urging along gangs of nuisance crows or trapping and moving Canada geese that have lost their flight feathers.
Bird banding was just one of the demonstrations at Duck Day.
Organizer Maya Basdeo, the Ontario waterfowl programs manager for Delta Waterfowl, said the event was double the size of last year’s Duck Day.
“We have a dog training demonstration and lots of puppies here,” said Basdeo. “Our pellet gun shooting range is much improved from last year and we have lots of prizes for the kids.
“It’s been a great turnout and it’s not over yet.”
The family-friendly event also featured duck decoy painting and a duck calling demonstration where kids could learn to call the birds.
Duck hunter Mark Leuwerier, his young son Blake and several of Blake’s cousins were at the event taking in all the aspects.
“So far we’ve shot pellet guns, watched the puppy show, bought some decoys and now we’re eating. After this we’re getting ice cream and then going to paint some decoys.”
Leuwerier said he believes the Delta Waterfowl program represents safety and conservation effects and those are things he wants to teach his son.
“My father trained me and I want to be able to train my son too. I want to pass on that tradition.”
Delta has 40 acres on lease on Turkey Point Road near Vittoria where it can host conferences, run education programs and support the local bird population.