duck hunters

Duck hunters fire at passing birds from a blind on the Conestoga River.

Pennsylvania’s first duck season of 2021 opened yesterday in the North Zone, South Zone – which covers Lancaster County – and the Northwest Zone.

In the South Zone, the early season runs through Oct. 16.

Pennsylvania waterfowl hunters can help the state Game Commission this season as it participates in a study to evaluate how pervasive contaminants such as PCBs, dioxins and heavy metals are in waterfowl.

“Ducks and geese are important indicator species that can tell biologists about the overall health of the environment,” officials with Cornell University’s Wildlife Health Lab said. 

Like fish, waterfowl can store these contaminants at levels that affect their own health and pose a risk to hunters who consume them.

And the birds can appear perfectly healthy.

Valley Creek in eastern Chester County has one of the highest concentrations of wild brown trout that you’ll find in Pennsylvania.

Yet those trout historically have shown excessive levels of PCBs, due to leachate from a federal rail repair yard along the stream.

PCBs are toxic industrial compounds known to cause all kinds of health problems when humans are exposed to them.

The Valley Creek trout are prolific and anglers chase them every year, but all fishing is catch-and-release due to the PCBs contamination.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission already recommends that mergansers shot in the state not be eaten at all, due to studies that determined the birds are known to harbor varying levels of contaminants, including PCBs.

Should there be consumption advisories for other waterfowl species, such as mallards and wood ducks?

Cornell University is leading a study across Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to learn more about the current contaminant levels found in commonly harvested ducks in the mid-Atlantic region of the Atlantic Flyway.

The findings of the study are not expected to impact hunting regulations, Cornell officials state, but rather, they could guide state wildlife agencies to better inform hunters about potential health risks associated with eating locally-harvested ducks and geese.

The species the study is focused on are Canada geese, mallards, black ducks, green-winged teal and wood ducks.

What the Game Commission is looking for this season are hunter-taken specimens. And to get those, they need hunters willing to donate birds.

Waterfowlers interested in participating in the study and donating birds should click here to fill out the form to register.

Here’s how the donation program will work. A registered hunter shoots one of the species mentioned. Since the study is aimed at finding contaminant build-ups over time, biologists only want adult birds.

So the hunter will take a photo of the harvested bird’s wing and email it to the Game Commission. The bird should be frozen immediately. The photo will help the biologist identify the bird’s age.

Within 48 hours after a kill is reported, a Game Commission biologist will contact the hunter to say if the bird is suitable for testing, and then someone from the agency will be sent to collect the specimen.

If you want to help out, sign up for the study.

Either way, we will be reporting the findings here, once they’re made available.

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