Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Spring duck numbers jump up in Minnesota

Bemidji, Minn. ’Äî The number of mallards nesting in Minnesota
rose this year to 298,000, up 23 percent from last year’Äôs spring
survey count of 242,000 birds, according to Steve Cordts, DNR
waterfowl specialist. The DNR also says blue-winged teal numbers
increased at the same rate, to about 152,000 birds.

The DNR wrapped up the spring survey in a mere eight days this
year, compared with the more than 20-day span it took to compile 50
hours of flight time the previous four years. That no doubt
influenced the survey to some degree, Cordts said, but likely more
regarding teal and other ducks, than mallards.

More days spent in the air prior to ’Äúleaf-out’Äù allowed
Cordts to better count woodies this year, too.

’ÄúThere wasn’Äôt a leaf in a tree ’Ķ it was ideal conditions
from the air,’Äù’Äàhe said.

The mallard count this spring also was 34 percent above the
long-term average of 222,000 ducks, which dates back to 1968,
Cordts said. It was nearly identical to the 10-year average.

’ÄúIt’Äôs about what I expected,’Äù Cordts said, adding that
numbers have been low in recent years, including a count of just
160,000 mallards in 2006.

Though bluewing numbers were up, Cordts said the population is
still 28 percent below the 10-year average, and 32 percent below
the long-term average.

Bluewing numbers seem to be more dynamic than those of other
species, as bluewings seem to be more ’Äúsensitive’Äù to wetland
conditions, which were considered good in the state this year.

The combined total of ’Äúother’Äù ducks ’Äì species like
gadwall, ringneck, redhead, wood ducks, and others ’Äì increased to
290,000, about 65 percent above the long-term average. The early
survey might have had a bearing on the results.

’ÄúThis large increase simply reflects the late spring weather
conditions and large numbers of migrant ring-necked ducks (about
100,000 counted) still present in the state when we flew the
survey,’Äù Cordts said in a DNR press release. ’ÄúWhat was more
encouraging was to see small to moderate increases in the numbers
of breeding wood ducks and other less common nesting
species.’Äù

The total estimated breeding population of ducks in the state
was 740,000, 51 percent higher than last year and 19 percent above
the long-term average.

’ÄúThe key is, the goal in the (state) duck plan is a 1
million-duck breeding population,’Äù Cordts said. ’ÄúWe’Äôre still
a fair bit below that ’Ķ It points to habitat issues.’Äù

Wetland habitat conditions were generally good this year; the
number of wetlands increased from 262,000 last year to 325,000 this
year. State duck counts are used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service as it formulates a season framework for the fall hunt.

Canada geese

The estimate of Canada geese breeding in Minnesota rose from
262,000 last year to 277,000 this year, according to the DNR.

’ÄúWhile our goose population is still in very good shape, it
appears that the breeding population is no longer increasing
rapidly and may be stabilizing,’Äù DNR biologist Dave Rave said in
an agency press release. ’ÄúEven with the late spring this year,
production should be better than last year.’Äù

Elsewhere in the Midwest

According to the Minnesota DNR, ’ÄúData on breeding duck
populations across other regions of North America are not yet
available, but preliminary reports suggest generally fair to good
wetland habitat conditions in parklands of Canada, but drier
conditions in some prairie areas of Canada and North Dakota.’Äù

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department conducts its own
spring duck and wetland surveys, and found the 2008 water index to
be down 70 percent from last year, as well as 57 percent below the
1948-2007 average.

The wetland index was the 10th lowest in history, according to
the department’Äôs report.

’ÄúHowever, these significant decreases in the wetlands indices
do not tell the whole story,’Äù according to the Game and Fish
report. ’ÄúWetland conditions are generally much worse than
indicated by the numbers. This is because the survey counts water
areas, not the amount of water contained in wetlands.’Äù

Duck numbers in North Dakota were similar to last year and
remained relatively high compared with the 60-year average.
According to the Game and Fish report: ’ÄúThe large number of ducks
tallied during our survey is ’Äòabnormal’Äô considering the
extremely poor water conditions across the state.

’ÄúPart of this is due to the fact that we have been carrying a
duck population that is well above average since the
mid-1990s.’Äù

The North Dakota report indicates that South Dakota ’Äúis
experiencing significantly improved water conditions due to late
winter/early spring precipitation.’Äù

The scaup bag

The USFWS Regulations Committee meets next week, and Delta
Waterfowl officials fear a harvest strategy regarding scaup
(bluebills) might be adopted by the group.

John Devney, senior vice president for Delta in Bismarck, N.D.,
said the group in the past has supported conservative harvest of
ducks. But, he said, a strategy that would further reduce scaup
harvest from two ducks to one duck would be detrimental to the
sport of diver duck hunting, and to the species itself.

Continental scaup numbers continue to range above 3 million, he
said, while the most recent harvest data show a kill of less than
360,000 nationwide during the 2005-06 hunting season.

Devney said Delta officials believe a further bag reduction is
unnecessary, and both Central and Mississippi flyway officials have
opposed further reductions.

’ÄúIf (the proposed) model is adopted, a one-scaup limit would
go into effect this year,’Äù he said.

Delta would like other to see alternative scaup management
’Äúmodels’Äù considered ’Äì ideally those that involve factors
other than harvest ’Äì prior to the implementation of a single
model.

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