‘Biggest ever’ duck banding tally bodes well for game bird season

Duck hunters will have no shortage of birds to target when the new game bird season kicks off in May (Saturday May 5) – going by the latest Fish & Game banding programme.

Right: Fly away home! Volunteer duck banders Bryony Griffiths from Canada, and Craig Symes from South Africa, set their banded birds free at a site near Pukehina.

Eastern Fish & Game Officers band greys and mallards every summer with the information used to help plan hunting limits and work out population trends.

Senior Fish & Game Officer Matthew McDougall says the operation to trap and band ducks is carried out at sites in the Bay of Plenty, along the East Coast and in the Reporoa area near Taupo.

“We caught more ducks than we ever have – 200 more than we previously have in any one year,” he says, with more than 1800 birds trapped and banded so far and trapping not yet finished.   

Mr McDougall says the banding operations are now in their twenty second year and this figure is the biggest tally to date.

 “And although total catch doesn’t necessarily reflect population size, ‘catch per unit effort,’ also called catch rate, does. 

“The large catch this year coincides with similar levels of effort to previous years.”

While numbers are still being crunched, he says the early indications are of a reasonable number of juveniles – important because the young birds make up a large part of a hunter’s bag. The juveniles are typically harvested at twice the rate of fully grown adults on Opening Weekend.

Of the individual banding sites, the Bay of Plenty had produced the largest numbers of birds, Mr McDougall says. “But there were reasonable numbers of ducks in Gisborne and on the East Coast,” he added. 

The birds were generally in “good condition.”

Mr McDougall says that the results fit with indications over the past two years of game bird populations “starting to turn around.”

Last year was a really good season for some hunters and Fish & Game staff expected opportunities like that again this year.

“We are just holding our breath somewhat over the possible impact of botulism on the populations after outbreaks in the warm humid weather,” he says.

Staff have also surveyed other species and found that paradise shelduck populations appear to be stable while black swan numbers continue to remain high in the Bay of Plenty. 

The banding programme will be followed up by aerial counts carried out before the game bird season opens on Saturday May 5.  

Fish & Game Eastern Region is again considering a six week mallard season with an eight bird limit, Mr McDougall says.

He is urging hunters to remember to send in their duck band information.

“We hope to again offer some desirable prizes as a nice incentive to folk to provide this crucial data. More on this closer to the season.” 


The annual banding involves capturing the ducks in baited traps and attaching individually numbered bands to their legs before releasing them. This provides information to compare with the previous breeding season, which helps in setting duck shooting limits.

Fish & Game use banding to find out survival rates for juveniles and adults, males and females.

Recovery of a band also means the distance between the banding site and recovery site can be calculated, as can the time elapsed since banding - giving an indication on how long the bird lived for.