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Mallard mystery has been solved; bird was part of local study

The mallard was tagged Wednesday, Aug. 10, at the Grand Forks Wastewater Treatment Plant northeast of the airport.

Jace Deziel and duck with band and GPS tracker.jpg
Jace Deziel, a student at Grand Forks Red River, shot this mallard that was fitted with a leg band and a tracking device Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, while hunting in Nelson County of northeast North Dakota.
Contributed/Kathy Deziel
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GRAND FORKS – The mystery of the mallard with the leg band and tracking device on its back has been solved.

It all started Saturday, Oct. 1, when Jace Deziel shot the duck while hunting with his cousin in Nelson County of northeast North Dakota.

They shot “five or six” snow geese and their limit of ducks, Jace says, but the mallard with the tracking device was definitely the most memorable.

“I was really excited,” said Jace, a ninth-grader at Grand Forks Red River High School. “It had a leg band, which is rare on its own, plus a GPS tracker, which is really rare.”

Jace’s grandma, Kathy Deziel, emailed a photo of Jace with the duck to the Herald. In a phone interview Wednesday evening, Jace said he had reported the duck’s band number on the reportband.gov website but hadn’t gotten any info on where or when the bird had been banded.

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Hoping to learn more about the duck, the Herald emailed Mark Fisher, a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Devils Lake.

Fisher forwarded the email to Andy Dinges, a waterfowl biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, and Susan Felege, a UND wildlife professor who is involved with a multi-partner study to learn more about bird movements and bird-strike risks associated with the Grand Forks International Airport and Grand Forks Air Force Base.

Long story short, the mallard is from the Grand Forks study and is one of 72 mallards that were fitted with tracking devices over the summer, Felege says. A variety of smaller birds, including meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds, also were fitted with tiny tracking devices as part of the study.

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Some of the best wildlife habitat in northeast North Dakota is near or between the airport and Grand Forks Air Force Base. That increases the potential for bird strikes at both sites.

The mallard Jace shot was tagged Wednesday, Aug. 10, at the Grand Forks Wastewater Treatment Plant northeast of the airport, Felege says. It’s not a GPS tracker, she says, but instead communicates with radio towers set up in the area as part of the study.

The tracking devices and the towers set up near the airport and Air Force Base are part of the Motus Wildlife Tracking System, motus.org, a global network of researchers who use “automated telemetry to simultaneously track hundreds of individuals of numerous species of birds, bats and insects,” the Motus website states.

“The tracker looks a bit like a GPS tracker but it is a smaller and lighter weight backpack radio tag,” Felege said.

There have been some issues with “antenna retention” on the tracking devices, Felege says, and efforts to improve the tags are ongoing.

Felege says she submitted the tagging info on the duck Jace shot after it was tagged in August, but the federal banding laboratory hasn’t caught up with it, which is why he couldn’t find any information about the bird on the reportband.gov website.

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Two other ducks fitted with the tracking devices also have been shot this fall, Felege says.

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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