Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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State duck counts show little change from 2000

Associate Editor

Bemidji, Minn. The number of ducks counted in Minnesota’s
waterfowl breeding ground survey was largely the same as a year
ago, the DNR said last week.

According to Jeff Lawrence, DNR waterfowl expert located in
Bemidji, this year’s count, done together with staff from the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, yielded about 716,000 breeding ducks in
the state, a 4-percent decline from last year.

“Mallards and other ducks were stable, while blue-winged teal
and Canada geese declined compared with last year,” he said.

Counts in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin are combined, and
considered along with other states’ mid-continent mallard counts.
Those counts, along with habitat conditions, help determine what
season frameworks will be offered for the fall hunt, Lawrence said.
The counts allow the DNR to monitor the number of breeding
waterfowl within Minnesota’s boundaries.

While Lawrence and a DNR pilot fly survey routes over the 40
percent of Minnesota that has the best breeding habitat, members of
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service perform a ground survey along a
portion of the routes to correct for birds missed by the air crew.
This year, DNR pilot Dick Stoltman flew his 20th consecutive
survey, Lawrence said. Aerial surveys take from nine days to two
weeks, depending on the weather.

About 40 percent of the ducks counted were mallards; this year
the species totalled about 320,000 and have exceeded 300,000 since
1992. That puts them 53 percent above the long-term average, which
dates back to 1968 when the current survey method began.

While mallards continue to have strong breeding populations in
the state, the blue-winged teal continues to find better places to
raise its young. Bluewings declined 24 percent from last year and
are 39 percent below their long-term average.

But unlike mallards, teal aren’t as loyal to their old nesting
site if they can find a better one.

“They move around in response to habitat conditions,” Lawrence
said. And while bluewing numbers were high in the late 1980s, and
early 90s, conditions now are better in the Dakotas, and while
numbers have plummeted in Minnesota, they’ve risen in both North
and South Dakota. (A count conducted by the North Dakota Game and
Fish Department the USFWS conducts its own survey showed an index
of 4.3 million ducks, a 14-percent increase over last year and 129
percent above the 1948-2000 mean.

The combined population of other ducks, including wood ducks and
ringnecks, were up about 4 percent from last year and remained 60
percent above the long-term average.

Canada geese

While numbers of Canada geese dropped 16 percent from last year,
they remain more than 200 percent above the long-term average, and
the decline was the first since 1992. Much of the decrease came in
areas of southwest Minnesota that before this spring has
experienced dry conditions.

Steve Maxson, DNR goose specialist, began a new way of surveying
the big Canadas this year, as the May waterfowl survey is too late
to get the best estimate of nesting geese.

This year, a helicopter survey was conducted in April on 150,
160-acre plots in three “ecoregions” the prairie, transition, and
forest. About 265,000 Canada geese counted; 3.1 per square mile in
the prairie region, 4.8 per square mile in the transition region,
and 2.9 in the forest region. An estimated 20,000 are in the Twin
Cities metro area.

Wet spring

In many areas of the state, ducks and geese are finding
conditions wetter than what’s been the case in the recent past. In
some areas, Lawrence said, Canada goose nests have been
flooded.

“But on the balance, we’re better off having too much water than
too little,” he said. “Although dry periods are good over
time.”

Early goose hunts have been offered over the past several years
as the state has tried to control the growth of the resident giant
Canada goose population.

A late spring and the wet conditions could reduce production of
Canada geese in some parts of the state, Lawrence said.

What’s it mean?

There will be a number of meetings before Minnesotans know what
the waterfowl season will look like in 2001.

A USFWS migratory bird early season regulations committee
meeting was scheduled for this week. This meeting would focus on
early season goose hunting, the youth hunt, and other migratory
birds, such as woodcock. Regarding the September goose hunt,
Lawrence said, “There’s no reason to think it won’t be offered this
year.”

The Mississippi Flyway Council will meet in Kentucky the last
week in July and the following week, the USFWS regulations
committee will meet again, and send its recommendations to the
USFWS director.

Whether or not Minnesota’s waterfowl season will open a week
earlier than usual still has not been determined. The USFWS Office
of Migratory Birds has chosen not to recommend the change, which
would extend the “back end” of the waterfowl season in Southern
states, according to Tim Bremicker, DNR Division of Wildlife
director.

Bremicker said that indicates the OMB considers such a change
“substantial.” It’s possible the USFWS’ regulatory committee could
recommend the change.

Bremicker said the DNR usually gets the go-ahead for early
seasons September goose hunts, the youth hunt, etc. in August.

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