Despite record numbers, declining duck conditions cloud futureGRAND FORKS — Habitat conditions were poorer than previous years, but spring continental duck populations were the highest ever recorded, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported this week.
By: Forum Communications, The Dickinson Press
GRAND FORKS — Habitat conditions were poorer than previous years, but spring continental duck populations were the highest ever recorded, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported this week.
According to the annual Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, North America’s duck population is 48.6 million birds. That’s a 7 percent increase from 45.6 million ducks in 2011.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service conduct the survey each May. According to waterfowl experts, this year’s high duck population results from favorable breeding conditions last year.
“This is the highest duck count since we started the survey in 1955,” Frank Rohwer, scientific director for Delta Waterfowl, said in a news release. “We had excellent wetland conditions in 2011, the second-highest pond count ever. So last year, we made a pile of ducks. This year, we’re counting them.”
Conservation group Ducks Unlimited said this year’s results mark only the sixth time in survey history that the total duck population has exceeded 40 million birds.
“If nesting and brood-rearing conditions are favorable over the next few months, we could see another strong fall flight,” Dale Humburg, chief scientist for DU, said in a statement.
By the numbers
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, mallards, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, gadwalls, canvasbacks, northern shovelers and scaup all were up significantly from last year, with shovelers and both species of teal at all-time highs. Blue-winged teal were estimated at 9.2 million, green-winged teal numbered more than 3.4 million and shovelers topped 5 million.
Mallard numbers were estimated at 10.6 million, a 15 percent increase from 2011 and 40 percent higher than the long-term average.
Scaup increased 21 percent to 5.2 million birds, marking the seventh-straight increase. Redheads declined slightly to just less than 1.3 million birds, still the second-highest count in survey history. Canvasbacks also rose 10 percent to 760,000, the fourth-highest count on record.
“All in all, this is a great duck count,” Rohwer of Delta Waterfowl said.
Less rosy was the news for breeding habitat. This year’s survey called 2012 “average to below average” for moisture, and pond counts in prairie Canada and the United States dropped from 8.1 million last year to 5.5 million this year, a decline of 32 percent.
The biggest decline in wetland conditions occurred on the U.S. prairies. The pond estimate for the Dakotas and Montana was 1.7 million, 49 percent below the estimates from last year. Only the coteau region of North Dakota and South Dakota was rated good for 2012.
No areas were rated excellent.
“The Dakotas have carried a disproportionate load of continental duck production over the last few years,” said John Devney, senior director of U.S. policy for Delta Waterfowl in Bismarck. “If we get dry here and lose the wetlands and upland nesting cover, the U.S. prairies just won’t be able to produce at the amazing levels we have seen since the mid-1990s, and that will have a real impact on hunters almost everywhere.”
In related news, the Department of Natural Resources said results from this year’s state waterfowl survey pegged Minnesota’s spring mallard population at 225,000. That’s similar to the long-term average of 226,000 but 21 percent lower than 2011 and 17 percent less than the 10-year average.
Designed specifically for mallards, the survey estimates duck numbers for just a portion of the state. The blue-winged teal index was 109,000, down from 214,000 in 2011 and 50 percent lower than the long-term average of 219,000.
Minnesota’s wetland conditions mirrored the national trend, with a 37 percent decline, while statewide Canada goose numbers were estimated at 434,000, up from last year’s estimate of 370,000. Steve Cordts, waterfowl specialist for the DNR in Bemidji, said Canada goose seasons already are at the maximum number of days allowed, and the agency may have to explore additional options to reduce Canada goose numbers.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department released results from the state waterfowl survey in June, estimating this year’s duck index at 4.8 million birds, up 16 percent from last year and 112 percent higher than the long-term average from 1948 to 2011.
Similar to what happened across North America, the increase was attributed to excellent production last year, which attracted breeding pairs back to the state.