Feb. 24, 2023
Wonders of Waterfowl: 4-H members get bird’s eye view of wildlife management
By Tracy Courage
U of A System Division of Agriculture
- Wonders of Waterfowl program cultivates new generation of wildlife management professionals
- Youth study migration, habitat, ecology and wing identification
- Arkansas 4-H, UA Monticello and Five Oaks partner to provide hands-on learning
(Newsrooms: With photos at https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjAs3st)
HUMPHREY, Ark. — Learning takes on new dimensions when the classroom is the great outdoors. That was the case for 50 Arkansas 4-H members who gathered at the Five Oaks Agriculture Research and Education Center on a cool February Saturday to learn about one of Arkansas’ star attractions — the ducks, of course.
The center, situated in the heart of the Mississippi Flyway on 6,000 acres of flooded timber and rice fields, offered the perfect setting for the Wonders of Waterfowl program, which brought together 4-H members from a dozen counties — Arkansas, Conway, Crittenden, Drew, Grant, Greene, Johnson, Mississippi, Pike, Pope, St. Francis and White — for a day of learning about the ducks and other wintering waterfowl on Feb. 11.
The program, now in its second year, is a collaboration between Five Oaks, the University of Arkansas at Monticello and Arkansas 4-H, a youth leadership program offered by the Cooperative Extension Service, part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
Students in UAM’s waterfowl habitat and recreation management graduate certificate program taught 4-H members about waterfowl habitat, ecology and conservation and demonstrated banding. During the day, several ducks were caught and a thin aluminum band around the leg of each bird. Bands are engraved with a unique number, and the UAM students recorded the number with each bird’s species, age and sex. Later, if that duck is captured or killed, the band can provide information on its migration, age, and other data useful in waterfowl management.
At the end of the day, the 4-H members helped release the newly banded ducks back into the wild.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to learn hands-on from the experts,” said Grant County 4-H volunteer leader Josh Beach, who brought three 4-H members to the event.
The Next Generation
Some of the 4-H members signed up for the Wonders of Waterfowl program because they like ducks and wanted to learn more, while others, like 15-year-old Brooke Duvall of Conway County, are interested in ecology and environmental conservation as a potential career.
That’s good news to organizers who are cultivating the next generation of waterfowl habitat managers.
“The program is helping recruit the next generation of natural resource professionals,” said Tiffany Osborne, a UAM-based extension wildlife instructor who coordinates Wonders of Waterfowl. “So many students are just into their iPad or their iPhone. This gets them outside, out into nature and connected to natural resources. When they have a good connection with their environment, they become better stewards of the earth and have an appreciation for the place where they live.”
Some of the participants also are involved with the 4-H Wildlife Habitat and Education Program, a competitive event for 4-H members interested in wildlife management.
“This is a good preparation for them,” said White County agent Jan Yingying, who brought a group of five 4-H members to the event. Some of the concepts they learn in Wonders of Waterfowl — satellite imagery, map reading and identification — are applicable, she said.
Throughout the day, students practiced wing identification, learned about migration and migration mapping, explored waterfowl habitat and food, and assisted with duck banding.
Inside the Five Oaks Lodge, Grant County 4-H members Gavin McGinley, 15, and Luke Douthat, 12, inspected wing specimens to practice their identification skills.
Outside, 4-H instructor Hope Bragg led 4-H members along an outdoor course set up with signs representing obstacles ducks might encounter along their migratory route: An unexpected freeze. Disease. Loss of an important stop where wetlands were drained for a new building.
“We learned about their migration patterns and some of the hazards that can be in the way of the ducks migrating,” said White County 4-H member Jewel Stewart, 12, who has projects in animal science, outdoor adventures, and health and fitness.
Aiden White, a member of Johnson County 4-H, said he also enjoyed learning about waterfowl migration.
“It amazed me how fast they travel and what all can affect them,” he said.
Another group of 4-H members donned waders and ventured out in foot-deep water to collect samples of aquatic invertebrates, which they later examined under a microscope.
“I found some slugs and beetles,” White County 4-H member Henry Stewart, 9, said.
“Congratulations, you’ve just caught your lunch,” UAM student Elijah Wojohn joked as he explained the significance of their catch. “The aquatic invertebrates are important for hens getting ready to nest because they are high in calcium. They’re also high in protein, which benefits the hens and the drakes.”
It was a learning experience for both the 4-H group and the UAM students teaching them.
“The students in our graduate certificate program have classroom and lab spaces here at Five Oaks where they learn all facets of waterfowl — biology, habitat, and some of the finer points of hospitality management,” said Michael Blazier, dean of UAM’s College of Forestry and Agriculture and Natural Resource and director of the Arkansas Forest Resources Center for the Division of Agriculture. “With events like this, they’re also learning how to be educators.”
At the end of the day, the college students led the 4-H group to the water’s edge where they released the newly banded ducks. The 4-H members didn’t go home empty-handed, though. Each took home a Legendary Gear custom-made double reed duck call, etched with “Wonders of Waterfowl,” as a reminder of their day at Five Oaks.
To learn more about Arkansas 4-H, visit www.uaex.uada.edu. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uada.edu/. Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit https://uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen
agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption
of best practices. The Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work
within the nation’s historic land grant education system through the Agricultural
Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
# # #
Director of Communications-Extension
U of A System Division of Agriculture