Vermont Fish & Wildlife had a rare opportunity Tuesday to begin tracking almost 200 ducks, mostly mallard ducks, in the middle of winter.
It’s all because a Milton man works hard to make his yard a duck’s paradise.
Dave Paya built his pond at his Milton home 15 years ago. It’s been a mecca for ducks ever since.
“[Monday] morning had 1,000-1,200,” said Paya. “These wild ducks have found it to be a nice safe home for them.”
Paya spends up to $2,500 on duck food from November to April every year.
“They come every winter. It keeps building every year. They have a good memory and sense of direction,” he said.
He says a retired biologist drove by his home, saw the ducks and contacted Vermont Fish & Wildlife.
“They knew it was a great opportunity,” said Paya.
Tuesday the Fish & Wildlife team arrived at Paya’s home. They baited hundreds of ducks with food than used a rocket net to capture about 200 of them.
“We average, on a rocket net shot, somewhere around 100-120 birds per shot,” said David Sausville, waterfowl project leader at Vermont Fish & Wildlife. “This is a little bigger but these were naive birds who didn’t know what they were coming into.”
The crew then banded the ducks and recorded information.
“We’re looking at the age, the sex and the species,” said Sausville.
Sausville says studies show the bands do not hurt the birds but they do it make it easier to track them.
“When people harvest the birds during hunting season, we’ll get survival and harvest rates and it allows us to put that into models that give us population estimates and we can follow the trends of the birds and make sure they’re doing well,” he said.
Sausville says the duck population is pretty stable in our region. The eastern mallard population, he says, have dipped a bit because of some habitat loss in different regions.
“These birds are here because we baited them. They’ve been baited in by the landowner and then ourselves. They normally wouldn’t be here in high numbers on a mountain, stream and pond,” said Sausville.
Sausville says it is not illegal for homeowners in rural areas to feed ducks. For health reasons, it’s discouraged for people in towns and around swimming areas to feed ducks.
“If you had a cold winter, where the lake completely froze over, no open fields and the food was not available they would disappear from the area,” said Sausville. “Interior Vermont has very few ducks right now because most of their lakes are covered over. There may be a few of them on the rivers.”
Homeowner Dave Paya is curious to see what the bands will tell them later this year.
“We’re going to find out,” he said. “Somebody’s going to shoot one next fall and we’ll see where it is before it comes here.”
Fish & Wildlife biologists says this isn’t a normal operation to band during the winter.
It’s usually done near the lakes or wildlife areas in the late summer into fall.