Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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State mallard count taking drastic drop

By Joe Albert Staff Writer

St. Paul — For the second consecutive year, the number of
breeding mallards in the state fell precipitously, as judged by
aerial surveys completed in May.

The decline was “substantial,” according to Steve Cordts, DNR
waterfowl specialist.

Counts indicated there were 161,000 breeding mallards in the
state this spring, as compared to 239,000 last year and 375,000 in
2004.

“It’s a real decline. It’s not something you can really push off
on how we come up with the estimates or anything,” Cordts said.
“There were a whole lot fewer mallards this year than there were
two years ago.”

The number of mallards is 51 percent below the 10-year average,
28 percent below the long-term average, and the lowest number
recorded since 1983.

That it’s the second decline in as many years makes it more
worrisome, Cordts said.

“I’m more concerned this year than I was at this time last
year,” he said. “Certainly any more (consecutive declines) than
that and it’s problematic.”

Wood duck numbers were the lowest recorded since 1985, and the
population survey also noted declines in most other duck species.
The blue-winged teal population, at 174,000 birds, was down about
20,000 birds from last year, 27 percent below the 10-year average,
and 24 percent below the long-term average.

Estimates of the numbers of canvasbacks, redheads, and scaup
were the lowest ever recorded. The survey, however, is tailored to
mallards. Most scaup, for example, had left the state prior to the
survey, Cordts said.

The survey, conducted this year between May 4 and 24, also
attempts to gauge wetland numbers in the state. Pond numbers
decreased 12 percent from last year, and were 15 percent below the
long-term average. The number of seasonal wetlands, important for
breeding ducks, increased 85 percent over last year, but still was
22 percent off the long-term average.

Cordts noted it was the second consecutive year that the survey
was delayed routinely because of weather, and most of the flights
were in the second half of May. Because of that, and the fact that
spring was warmer than usual, there were few migrant ducks in the
state during the surveys.

Whenever surveys are delayed, duck numbers tend to drop, Cordts
said.

“I don’t want to mask it and say, ‘Oh, it was just a poor survey
year,’ “ he said. “It played a role, but it certainly doesn’t
explain the magnitude of the drop of our mallard numbers this
year.”

Michigan and Wisconsin also noted mallard declines, he said, but
numbers of the birds were high in the Dakotas.

When spring comes early, mallards typically nest earlier, and
nest success improves. Also, ducks have slightly larger clutches,
and the survival of broods and ducklings is better, Cordts
said.

That seems to be what people are seeing on the ground, which
doesn’t necessarily jibe with what the survey showed, he said.

“From what I’ve heard, most (wildlife) managers seem to be
seeing broods and it seems to me like it’s a pretty good nesting
year,” Cordts said. “It sounds like things are OK as far as
production.”

A good production year could help offset some of the drops in
the numbers of breeding mallards, he said.

The DNR Waterfowl Committee was to meet during the middle of the
week to discuss the survey results, among other items. Harvest
numbers from last year should be out in a couple of weeks, and
continental numbers should be available by the flyway meetings in
the middle of July, Cordts said.

The state results may play a part when the state sets its duck
season. Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allowed a
limit of six ducks, including two hen mallards. The DNR, on the
heels of reduced breeding ducks and in response to hunter opinion
surveys, opted to go more restrictive, and the limit last fall was
four ducks, with no more than one hen mallard.

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