Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Continental duck counts show increase over ’05

By Joe Albert Staff Writer

Minneapolis — The number of breeding mallards in Michigan
declined this year, but that doesn’t reflect what’s happening in
the rest of their range. The number of mallards on prairie breeding
grounds, at about 7.3 million this year, is slightly above the
count last year, and on par with the species’ long-term
average.

Most other species – scaup and wigeon the exceptions – also
fared well this year. Total duck numbers increased from about 31.7
million last year to 36.2 million this year, a 14-percent jump,
according to a preliminary report on duck populations and pond
numbers issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Habitat conditions across the U.S. and Canadian prairie also
were good, as they increased by 13 percent over last year, to 6.1
million acres. That’s 26 percent higher than the average since
1955.

“There was decent production last year, and that contributed to
the increase this year,” said Steve Wilds, regional migratory bird
chief for the USFWS at Ft. Snelling. “The increase in the primary
breeding areas always improves the situation.”

Results of the survey, which was completed in May, come in the
run-up to flyway meetings later this month. Not included are
waterfowl harvest numbers from last fall. The USFWS is expected to
release its numbers in coming days.

Population estimates of most duck species increased over last
year, and most were above their long-term average. That, along with
generally good habitat conditions, likely will result in a liberal
season framework this fall, Wilds said.

Mallards increased by about 500,000 over last year, to 7.3
million birds. That count is similar to the long-term average.

In the Great Lakes Region (Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota)
however, the mallard count was 588,000 this year, down from over
700,000 in 2005.

“We have to be cautious in estimating how good the (hunting)
season will be,” said Michigan DNR waterfowl specialist Faye McNew.
“Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota all saw declines in their
mallard populations and that’s where 54 percent of our mallard
harvest comes from.”

According to the USFWS survey, blue-winged teal, at 5.9 million,
increased 1.3 million birds over last year and were 30 percent
above the long-term average. At 2.6 million, green-winged teal
increased 20 percent, and were 39 percent above their long-term
average.

Gadwall numbered 2.8 million, an increase of 30 percent from
last year, 67 percent above the long-term average. Redheads, at
900,000, increased 55 percent over last year and were 47 percent
over the long-term average.

The canvasback count was 700,000, an increase of 33 percent from
last year, and 23 percent over the long-term average. American
wigeons were at 2.2 million, which is about 17 percent below the
species’ long-term average.

Scaup, at 3.2 million, were about 37 percent below their
long-term population average.

Pintails numbered 3.4 million, 32 percent above last year, but
18 percent below the long-term average.

The pintail increase should be viewed with caution, since those
birds are “notorious wanderers,” Wilds said. If water conditions
are poor in the survey area, the birds go elsewhere. So the
population may be up this year, but the birds also could have been
in other areas during previous surveys.

“Maybe it’s not a (32 percent) increase in pintails in North
America,” he said.

And officials were viewing the scaup decline – a record low for
the second consecutive year – with consternation.

“Scaup are a very big concern, and a lot of folks have been
working on it,” Wilds said.

Canada geese

Spring population estimates on Canada geese also are up. The
Southern James Bay spring population was estimated at 160,430,
which is a 54-percent increase over 2004.

“We are the largest harvester of the Southern James Bay
population, but the take is only about 3 percent of our total goose
harvest,” McNew said.

The Mississippi Valley Population spring count stood at 704,954,
which is the highest it’s been since 1999. Locally, there are about
187,000 resident Canada geese in Michigan, up from 168,702 last
year. The current number is within the state’s goal of between
175,000 and 225,000.

Habitat conditions

The pond estimate in prairie Canada – about 4.4 million – was up
from last year, and was a marked increase since 1955. At about 1.6
million, the estimate in the United States was about the same as
last year and since 1955.

Regulatory scenarios

While frameworks and seasons won’t be set until later this
summer – the process starts with flyway meetings, which began July
18. Population and habitat estimates provide an early look at what
could occur.

The USFWS is likely to offer a liberal season again, and the
poor breeding mallard counts in Michigan may be justification
enough for the state to offer a six-bird bag limit, including no
more than four mallards and no more than one hen mallard.

Pintails regs last year allowed one bird per day for the entire
60-day season. Wilds speculated there wouldn’t be a change, but
said an increase in the bag limit is possible. There was a 30-day
canvasback season last year with a one-bird limit. Wilds said a
full canvasback season is a possibility.

Scaup regs may be most likely to change. Hunters last year could
take two per day all season.

“We’re concerned enough that there may be changes with scaup,”
Wilds said. “If any change is made to scaup, it will go down.”

The NRC will finalize the season framework at its Aug. 10
meeting in Manistique.

Editor Bill Parker
contributed to this story.

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