St. Paul For the first time since 1993, there will be no hunting
season on a duck species small in number, but high in prestige the
A year removed from a 20-day “season within a season” for the
migratory bird, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided the
anticipated 2003 spring breeding population of canvasbacks will not
be high enough to allow hunters in the United States to pursue them
this hunting season.
Jeff Lawrence, DNR Wildlife migratory bird specialist in
Bemidji, said officials from all four flyways lobbied for at least
a partial canvasback hunting season this year. The USFWS refused to
“We’ve always been more conservative (with canvasback hunting)
than with any other species of ducks,” Lawrence said. “Some
biologists think it’s too conservative. The new Service strategy is
more conservative than the old Service strategy, and the new one,
when set up, was to provide more hunting opportunities.”
When the predicted spring canvasback population is 500,000 or
fewer birds, the USFWS may opt to close the prior hunting season on
the birds, which is what occurred this year.
In a press release, the USFWS stated, “The Service is proposing
to close the hunting season on canvasbacks because of recent
population declines and a poor outlook for production. Canvasbacks
are extremely sensitive to breeding habitat conditions, and season
closures have been used in the past because of their relatively low
Those poor conditions occurred over much of prairie Canada,
This year’s spring count was about 487,000 breeding canvasbacks,
a 16-percent decline from last year, when the count was about
580,000. This year’s population estimate also was below the
long-term average of 563,000 canvasbacks.
Lawrence and other state officials say management of canvasbacks
by the USFWS may be too risk-aversive.
“It’s the only species of ducks where you can hit the long-term
average and still be faced with a closed season,” he said. “With
that, you could have a closed season half the time.”
In 1993, the last time the canvasback season was closed (it had
been closed since 1986), the spring breeding count was 472,000
birds. That was the most recent time the number dipped beneath
500,000. The highest spring survey occurred in 1995, when about
770,000 cans were counted.
Lawrence said of all the major species monitored by wildlife
biologists, the can population is the smallest. Redhead ducks also
have relatively small numbers compared to other species.
In 2002, the redhead count was about 565,000, down from 712,000
last year. Still, the daily limit on redheads in Minnesota will be
two, and the season on the species runs 60 days. Minnesota hunters
shot about 14,800 redheads last year compared to about 3,500
canvasbacks during that 20-day season. Across the Mississippi
Flyway, the canvasback kill fell from 44,100 in 2000 to 10,3000
during the shortened 01 season.
“It dropped more than we expected,” Lawrence said. The 2000 kill
in Minnesota was about 6,100 birds.
Since 1994, the daily limit on cans has been one bird. Between
1996 and 2000, Minnesota hunters averaged a canvasback kill of
about 10,600 cans, according to Lawrence. By comparison, another
top canvasback-harvesting state, Louisiana, averaged just under
15,000 cans per season during that same time period.
Lawrence said the peak of canvasback migration through the state
takes place typically the last two weeks of October. Cans have
wedge-shaped foreheads and sloped bills. The feet of canvasbacks
hang behind the birds when they’re in flight. Males are very white
birds, though females and immature cans will be harder to
“It can be confusing,” Lawrence said. “It’s going to put some
hunters in a difficult situation in identifying birds.”
Note: Minnesota duck hunters will have another “season within a
season” this year this time for pintails. The pintail season will
be open just the first 30 days of the season, from Sept. 28 through
Oct. 27. The daily pintail limit is one; the possession limit is