It’s a bird. it’s a plane. It’s ... a waterfowl biologist?
Never bet against Andy Raedeke in a contest to guess how many jellybeans are in a jar. As a waterfowl biologist, Andy gets plenty of practice counting things, mostly ducks and geese. And, he does it while flying in planes and helicopters at speeds that would get your parents pulled over on the interstate. On the first pass over a marsh, the pilot flies 500 feet up to avoid scaring the ducks and geese below. In the copilot’s seat, Andy has a bird’s-eye view and quickly counts all the waterfowl.
For the next pass, the pilot banks and drops low. “It’s like riding a roller coaster,” Andy says. “You float off the seat and your stomach crawls up your throat.”
That’s when things get interesting. There are different kinds of waterfowl. As birds burst into the air, Andy estimates how many of each kind he sees.
“We’ve had a few close calls,” Andy says. “Once, we flew through a flock of mallards, and one came within inches of the cockpit.” Back at the airport, the pilot pointed out a dent the unlucky duck had left in the plane’s tail. Andy’s counts help biologists learn how many waterfowl visit Missouri, when they migrate, and where they stop to eat. The information helps set hunting seasons and lets wetland managers know how much habitat to provide. Want to try counting ducks and geese from 500 feet up?
Check out www.xplormo.org/node/9030.
Nichole LeClair Terrill