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Help the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife with Duck Banding!

By Ted Nichols
Waterfowl Ecology and Management Program

Each year biologists and cooperators with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish and Wildlife, Waterfowl Ecology and Management Program, trap and mark ducks with legbands. This program is part of a nationwide monitoring effort for migratory game birds. In order to facilitate geographic specific recovery and survival rates, duck banding is targeted at local birds. As such, all duck banding is conducted between July 1 and September 30, before the onset of the majority of the fall migration in October.

The banding effort is directed toward the common breeding species: mallards, black ducks and wood ducks. Banding data gives us information on the proportion of the duck population that is harvested during hunting seasons, the timing of when ducks are harvested as well as information on their migration patterns. The information gathered from banding is used to guide management decisions and monitor the effects of these decisions.

Ducks are captured by luring them into wire traps or to rocket net sites by using bait. Traps are baited and tended daily. At rocket net sites, the net is fired over feeding ducks after several consecutive days of birds feeding at the site.

Regardless of capture method, all ducks are banded at the site and released immediately after banding. Rocket nets are used judiciously given that rocket nets are very loud when discharged and generate a lot of smoke. A large, open downrange area is also required when using rocket nets. We also have used a bungee cord propelled net for sites that may be unsafe for firing a rocket net.

Capturing ducks during the summer months is quite difficult for several reasons. First, ducks are generally not concentrated at this time of year. It takes just as much effort to capture 10 ducks as it does to capture 100 ducks. As such, we constantly strive to find larger concentrations of birds to make for an efficient operation. Second, luring ducks to bait at a time of year when natural foods are readily abundant is a formidable task, particularly since ducks are not physiologically stressed for food during these warm months. Third, once bait is distributed at a site it is often also found and consumed by Canada geese. Geese often usurp bait sites intended for ducks rendering sites unusable.

Ducks in trap
Wire traps are one of the tools used to capture and band ducks.

How can you help?

1. Tend and bait one of our sites.
We have multiple sites around the state where we have previously captured ducks or have reason to believe that the sites would be productive for duck banding. Although baiting is something that literally takes only minutes a day we generally have dozens of trap sites operating simultaneously and get stretched pretty thin. Therefore, one of the best ways that wildlife enthusiasts can also assist is by "adopting" and baiting one or more of our trap sites.

In our experience, hooking up a site with a dedicated person that lives locally is the best recipe for success. At most sites, ducks feed at dawn and/or dusk. Given this habit, most sites can to be baited just prior to dawn or in some cases just after dusk. Generally, this dawn or dusk scenario fits into most people's busy schedules. After ducks begin using the site consistently, we will set traps and or rocket nets to capture the ducks. The ducks are banded by trained Division staff although cooperators are always invited to attend and participate in the banding. Although we have banded as early as July, the majority of our sites are most productive between August 20 - September 30.

We currently have a need for cooperators to bait sites near the following towns (counties). Chances are, there's a site near you.

North: Stillwater (Sussex), Woodcliff Lake (Bergen), Bound Brook (Somerset).
Central: Farmingdale (Monmouth), East Brunswick (Middlesex).
South: Ocean City (Cape May), Clermont (Cape May), Belleplain (Cape May), Dividing Creek (Cumberland), Millville (Cumberland), East Vineland (Cumberland), Greenwich (Cumberland), Estell Manor (Atlantic), Willow Grove (Salem), Pedricktown (Salem), Bridgeport (Gloucester), and National Park (Gloucester).
Any cooperator that wishes to volunteer their time is required to become a Wildlife Conservation Corps (WCC) Volunteer. Information and applications can be found at

For more information or to volunteer to "adopt a site" contact Ted Nichols at 609-628-3218 or by e-mail at

2. Identify new sites for us.
We are always on the look out to add new sites to our list. During summer, we generally start to get interested at sites with 20 or more ducks. At some sites, after a little bait is distributed, 20 ducks quickly becomes 50 ducks. Many sportsmen may be surprised that their autumn duck hunting honey hole holds relatively few or perhaps no ducks doing the summer. Our banding effort spans from High Point to Cape May so there's no place we will not go. We consider Burlington, Monmouth, Ocean and Gloucester to be our "sleeping giants" as we have relatively few identified duck banding sites in these counties. Undoubtedly there are many sites around the state where landowners are feeding ducks during the summer that we don't know about that would make suitable banding sites.

Besides having ducks, successful sites generally have a few key components in common:

1. Security. Duck traps and/or rocket nets generally draw lots of attention. Both are subject to theft and vandalism. Although for safety reasons we never leave rocket net equipment untended, we do leave "dummy nets" that resemble real rocket nets so birds become accustomed to seeing the capture equipment. Private property or other sites with limited or controlled access are most successful. Much time can be spent determining the landowner and obtaining permission to conduct banding operations. Cooperators in the local area can save us considerable time by determining landowners and/or the appropriate contact individual for accessing potential sites.

2. Ease of access. We have had several successful banding sites that were arduous walks through thigh deep mud or required extensive boat travel. However, for every one of these sites, we have a dozen sites that are less than a 5-minute walk from a vehicle. We have come to the realization that there is only so much time in a day and sites with relatively easy access are tended more consistently and are therefore more successful than remote sites.

3. Rocket net sites require a large space. Our rocket nets measure 35 feet by 50 feet. As such, they need a large space that is free of trees, shrubs or high vegetation to deploy properly. Generally, grassy or bare soil areas adjacent to wetlands are most effective. On several occasions we have cleared brush and/or herbaceous vegetation to make a site suitable for rocket nets. On several occasions, we've also deployed rocket nets over a foot of water or less as long as the wetland bottom is firm. Also, as mentioned previously, rocket net sites require careful consideration due to safety and noise concerns. For sites in congested areas, we have used a bungee cord propelled net with moderate success but this also requires an open area free of obstructions.

4. Few or absence of Canada geese. Canada geese love any duck bait and can quickly ruin a site intended for duck banding. At some sites we can design traps to keep geese out of the traps. At rocket net sites, we can often get the ducks conditioned to feeding at dawn, just prior to the time when Canada geese begin feeding. As a general rule, if the number of Canada geese is similar to or greater than the number of ducks at a site, the probability of success declines.

5. Absence of September Canada goose hunting. Much of our banding is done during September. Since baiting is illegal for all waterfowl hunting, including September Canada goose hunting, we have to be cognizant of the fact that we may be operating in areas that could also be open to otherwise legal Canada goose hunters. We have used sites open to Canada goose hunting by getting in earlier in July and August but this approach warrants additional planning.

Examples of sites that have worked for us in the past include:

  • Farm or irrigation ponds or other private wetlands. These areas can be very successful, as they typically have strictly controlled access. These types of sites are generally the hardest for us to locate and may be our single biggest untapped resource for duck banding.
  • Detention basins. These sites can be tremendously productive wetlands and/or key mid-day loafing or night roosting sites for large numbers of ducks. By default, these areas are generally in areas of high human density. Out of the way or otherwise visually obscured coves that attract less human attention are key. Detention basins located away from buildings and other human habitation can make for good rocket net sites. Security, usually involving high fences, gates and locks is of utmost importance to protect ducks and capture equipment.
  • Ponds on top of dredge spoil sites. Ducks frequently feed or loaf at these sites. Almost all major waterways along the coast or along New Jersey's navigable rivers have dredge spoil sites. Although they are frequently in populated areas they are seldom visited by people since they are elevated, often surrounded by phragmites and full of loathsome insects. Probably the largest problem to overcome is unpredictable water levels at these sites, particularly during the hot, dry period in late summer when we are banding ducks.
  • Stream corridors attached to public parks.
  • Lake communities. The key here is finding a landowner or cooperator with lakefront property that includes limited access.
  • Public wetlands. These sites can be bonanzas. Finding out of the way sites that have ducks and less human visitation are most likely to be successful.
If you know of a site where you have observed ducks during the summer period, and has some of the key components listed above, we would like to hear about it. Of course, the most valuable assistance you could provide is to identify a new site, any pertinent landowner information and identify someone (maybe yourself?) to bait the site for us. For more information, contact Nathan Zimpfer at 609-748-2046 or by e-mail at
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Department of Environmental Protection
P. O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Updated: September 19, 2006