Hands on a Duck, Contributing to Science and Fun: Friends LOVED Duck Banding

By: Poppy Benson, Friends Vice President

Five friends helped the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge band ducks this past August.  Each team took one- or two-week shifts working with Ross Flagen, Tetlin Deputy Refuge Manager and duck banding guru. Here’s what I heard back: From Carol Damberg of Anchorage “what an excellent experience I had . . .  Ross did an amazing job at leading and teaching me on all things associated with the art of duck banding”; from Moira O’Malley of Fairbanks “Had the time of my life bird banding. Ross is a hoot!”; from George and Susan Hedrick of Sterling returning for their second year “Volunteering on Tetlin refuge provides a firsthand ” behind the scenes” glimpse of how a federal refuge works. – Ross Flagen, deputy manager, provided a super fun and educational experience!”; and Dan Musgrove of Soldotna said “I highly recommend it to anyone . . . . . The people were all great to work with. The education on the ducks was tremendous.”

George Hedrick hauling fencing for the traps.  pc Susan Hedrick

The volunteers also spoke favorably about the “other duties as assigned.” The Hedricks mentioned enjoying painting the picnic tables in the campground and Dan Musgrove of Soldotna loved being Campground Host for a day and all-around Friends Ambassador to other campers.  This later role in reaching out to other travelers and explaining the mission of the Refuge was valued by Refuge staff.  Ross Flagen said “Friends . . . created many positive encounters with the traveling public.  This was an intended part of the project, and it worked out even better than we had hoped.”  Meeting other staff members and volunteers, getting to know Tetlin Refuge and camping for the week at the Refuge’s Deadman Lake Campground were other highlights.

The first week crew enjoying a rare day of sunshine, l to r, Moira O’Malley, a student volunteer, Dan Musgrove and Tetlin Deputy Refuge Manager Ross Flagen, pc USFWS

Tetlin Refuge started waterfowl banding in 2018 to assist the Pacific Flyway in meeting banding objectives.  Ducks are banded so that wintering areas and migration routes can be determined when banded birds are resighted and identified by their discrete band number.  It is banding that allowed the North American flyways to be discovered and mapped forming the basis for much of modern waterfowl management. 

Friends catching trapped ducks.  pc USFWS

Capturing birds and banding five days a week for a month is very labor intensive and that is where Friends came in.  In 2019 two Friends, the Hedricks, helped with banding.  Then came Covid.  This year the project geared up using five Friends over four weeks.  In all 278 Mallards, 84 Northern Pintail, 11 Green-winged Teal, 2 Blue-winged Teal, 2 Lesser Scaup and 1 American Wigeon were captured and banded.   Friends aided in all things associated with the operation of the banding station, from filling buckets with barley for bait and assembling traps, to species identification, banding and disease sampling. Swab samples were collected from most ducks and sent off to US Department of Agriculture lab to be tested for avian diseases particularly bird flu. 


Be on the lookout for this exceptional volunteer opportunity to come up again next August.  As Carol said, “Thanks for an incredible life experience!!!   Can’t wait to visit Tetlin again!!