Every duck that comes to your hand arrives there with a story.
It’s usually up to your imagination to guess where it’s traveled and where it left its egg shell behind. But determining its origins and travels – the real story – is critically important to Delta Waterfowl’s mission to produce more ducks for you and the rest of North America’s duck hunters.
There are many ways Delta attempts to study just where your ducks come from. A primary method, with the longest history, is careful, scientific analysis of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s band return data through the decades North American waterfowl banding programs have been active.
The following maps show historic band recoveries by hunters for birds that were banded as “HY” (hatch year) or “Local” (flightless duckling) in the Prairie Pothole Region in the months of June, July or August. These filters provide the most accurate assurance that the duck was, indeed, a product of the PPR.
In each species map, the area recognized as the prairie pothole region is shaded in dark blue. Each reported hunter recovery of a band outside the PPR is represented by a pink dot. As the recovery dots overlap, the color becomes a brighter and brighter red. Remember, these represent band recoveries exclusively from birds tagged as juveniles in the PPR, virtually guaranteeing that’s where these birds where hatched. Each inset map depicts the core breeding ranges for the individual species.
Considered as a whole, these maps are strong evidence that the PPR is the greatest single source of ducks for waterfowl hunting hotspots in every North American flyway. That means chances are high that the Prairie Pothole Region is where your ducks come from – and that’s the reason Delta Waterfowl focuses so much of its resources there. It guarantees the most ducks for the bucks and time spent.
Mallards are the most populous and popular ducks in North America. More mallards are banded than any other species, and more mallards are harvested annually by more than 2-to-1 than any other species. This map is evidence that the PPR delivers mallards to all of the duck hunting hotspots on the continent.
Pintails are revered in every flyway. Their preferred breeding grounds are in the PPR if the conditions are right. Though there are also core pintail breeding areas in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic, the map is evidence that PPR pintails are frequently harvested in the Pacific flyway, especially in central California.
Canvasbacks are notorious for their inflexibility in where they nest. The vast majority of canvasbacks are produced in the portion of the PPR known as the parklands. Band recoveries over generations are evidence these are the same birds that created the legendary canvasback culture in the Atlantic Flyway.
Band recoveries of blue-winged teal tagged as juveniles in the PPR reveal these ducks are big-time travelers to every southward compass point. Bluewings produced and banded in the prairie potholes are regularly reported as far away in the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways as southern Mexico and the islands of the Caribbean.
Incidence of hunter band recoveries of greenwings hatched in the PPR is strong evidence of their importance to hunters in the southern stretches of the Mississippi, Central and even Pacific Flyways. Areas like the Great Salt Lake watershed in Utah host enormous flocks of GWT in the winter offering spectacular shooting.
The PPR delivers gray ducks to keep hunters happy, particularly throughout the Mississippi Flyway and bleeding into the Central Flyway. Historic gadwall band recoveries by duck hunters are especially prevalent in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. Even parts of Oklahoma rank high for gaddies.
Scaup are a bit unusual in that their core breeding range includes both the Prairie Pothole Region and the boreal forests all the way to the arctic shores to the north. Bluebills produced in the PPR contribute to the bags of hunters most everywhere these divers are pursued.
Redheads are highly adaptive ducks and seem to be expanding their core breeding range and production success within the PPR. More ducks means more opportunity and success for more hunters. Their map shows redhead bands are recovered frequently by hunters across all of the United States, southern Canada and into Mexico.
Shovelers produced in the PPR seem to show a preference for heading for the coasts. That’s to the benefit of hunters on the Texas and Louisiana gulf coasts and Pacific Flyway waterfowlers in California. Arkansas shows strong spoonbill band recoveries, too. What do all those areas have in common? A long history of rice growing!
Band recoveries of wigeon produced in the PPR also exemplify wide dispersal across all flyways. Like mallards and redheads, in particular, they represent just how important duck production in the prairie potholes are to hunters in all four flyways in the lower 48 United States.