Technician earns feather in his cap for his work with bird wings

Time flies when you’re looking at bird wings. For Jeff Neal, a wildlife technician with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, that time amounts to 20 years.
In February, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recognized Neal for providing 20 years of service to the annual Central Flyway Wing Bee event. This federal program collects waterfowl hunting data by evaluating bird wings submitted by hunters throughout the central part of the United States. That data is ultimately combined with data from the other areas, or flyways, and become part of the national USFWS Parts Collection Survey database.
“It’s just another part of my job, part of my work duty dealing with migratory game birds, that I enjoy doing,” said Neal, who works out of the Arcadia Conservation Education Area office.
Neal began participating in the Central Flyway Wing Bee in 1991. In recent years, the gathering has been held at Flint Hills National Wildlife Refuge near Emporia, Kan.
Each year, during duck and goose hunting seasons, hunters submit about 20,000 wings or sets of tail feathers to the Wing Bee organizers. The hunters are selected randomly from the Harvest Information Program. For each duck harvested, the hunter will send a fully feathered wing; for each goose harvested, the hunter sends all the tail feathers and some primary flight feathers.
Neal and about 40 other researchers gather at the Wing Bee for several days each February. They “read” all of the wings and/or feathers, which have been separated by species. The researchers can determine the age and sex of each duck, and the age and population origin of each goose that was harvested.
Wing Bee data is used to develop statistics about the just-ended duck and goose seasons, such as the species, age and sex composition, an estimate of the success of the previous year’s breeding season, and research opportunities into the prevalence of pesticides and pollutants in the environment.
“One aspect of the Wing Bee I really enjoy is visiting with all the individuals throughout the Central Flyway,” Neal said. “Most of them have similar duties in their states. A person gets to hear some pretty good hunting and fishing stories, too.”
Neal also attends the Dove Wing Bee at Lee’s Summit, Mo., in November. “I’ve made all but one of the Dove Wing Bees,” Neal said. That survey began in 2005.
He said about 30,000 dove wings are inspected at that gathering, and age and molt codes are taken from each wing.
Michael Bergin or Micah Holmes (405) 521-3856

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