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What the duck? Utah duck data amps up with GPS technology

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CORINNE, Utah (ABC4 News) – Have you ever seen a “backpack bird?” Collecting duck data is done every summer in Utah marshes and includes banding the birds before they take off on their migration path. The banding process is a bit of a wild one, and this year, DWR teamed up again with the USGS to focus on the migration path of the “Cinnamon Teal” species of duck.

“That data tells us migration pattern for the ducks, survival rates and mortality rate, and that information is really valuable,” said Rich Hansen, the Division of Wildlife Waterfowl Banding Coordinator.

Banding birds, particularly ducks, has happened in the state of Utah since 1965. The bands allow scientists to know where the ducks, who nested in Utah marshes, end up in their flight path. Anyone who shoots or find a duck wearing a tag reports its condition and whereabouts. The Division Wildlife typically makes about six trips a summer to gather about ducks for banding. This year, the soggy spring has shortened the collection process and has made banding a bit easier.

“It’s been an amazing production year. I’ve been with the Division 17 years, and it’s the best production we’ve ever seen,” said Hansen.

Utah marshes are thriving with all of the runoff and wet weather, and the number of ducks helps, but the duck banding process is far from easy with airboats, fishing nets, and spotlights.

“That spotlight stuns the bird, and we have people on the front of the boat with fishnets and they usually have one chance to reach out and catch them,” Hansen, told ABC4 News.

This year, thanks to the help of the USGS, some of these ducks are also becoming backpack birds. GPS backpacks are going on adult Cinnamon Teal ducks in seven states in the West including Utah. GPS backpacks can track ducks within 15 minutes of their last location, show scientists which habitats they use and how they interact with each other. The packs are solar-powered and will fill in a lot of blanks on the flight path of a Utah duck.

“They all have to reach a certain weight requirement. The transmitter can’t be more than 3% of their body weight,” said Desmond Mackell of USGS.

The packs don’t hurt the birds and will transmit a decent amount of duck data. Duck banding only took three trips to Utah marshes as opposed to the usual six. Hansen says a thriving nesting ground is a great sign of a healthy marsh.

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