Mississippi Flyway biologists gather for annual WingBee - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Mississippi Flyway biologists gather for annual WingBee

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CARBONDALE -- Wildlife biologists from across the Mississippi Flyway, which extends from Minnesota to Louisiana, encompassing 14 states, are at SIU this week for the annual WingBee. Every year, they come together to look over wings collected from ducks and geese harvested throughout the flyway.

From green wing and blue wing teal, to gadwall, some ducks are easier to identify than others.

"People know greenhead ducks. People know black ducks, maybe a canvasback. But there's a lot of nondescript brown female ducks," explained Louisiana wildlife biologist John Hanks. "It's hard to get the species right. They may confuse a female gadwall with a female pintail or something. We only have the wing, we don't have the whole bird." 

Hanks has been coming to the WingBee since the early 2000s, and today he is one the veterans and experts of the group and helping others at his table properly identify the birds.

"You come as a young biologist. We have people from all over the flyway," said Hanks. "Different states, different agencies. Some federal, some state, some private individuals even. University students."

The WingBee was first started in 1961, and it's been held at SIU since the 80s  Hunters are chosen to send in duck wings and goose tails off each bird they shoot that year. In the Mississippi Flyway, they come to SIU's Wildlife Annex where they're frozen and kept until the WingBee. Then, biologists are tasked with determining the age, sex, and species of each one.

"Once they determine what it is, they send it down to the checker and he or she looks at it and says, yeah this is right, no this is not," explained Stephen Chandler, USFW parks collection service coordinator. "We talk about it and explain the differences." 

The information collected is one portion of the data used to set season frameworks and bag limits by helping determine changes in populations.

"We're able to get a species specific harvest estimate and age and sex ratios of the harvest as a whole," said Chandler. 

The WingBee started on Monday with biologists looking over the most common species of duck in the Mississippi Flyway, mallards, and working down the line. The event wraps up Thursday.

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