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

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Waterfowl surveys offer mixed picture

DNR Report

Madison – Variable spring habitat conditions in the United
States and Canada present a mixed picture for the fall waterfowl
seasons in Wisconsin, according to DNR Waterfowl Biologist Kent Van
Horn.

Early information shows areas ranging from very good wetland
conditions to very dry. Wildlife managers will have a better
understanding of what impact these conditions had on breeding
waterfowl numbers when they finish compiling spring waterfowl
breeding surveys.

Three information sources on annual breeding conditions are used
to determine the fall season structure for Wisconsin, according to
Van Horn.

“We’ve completed the annual Wisconsin Breeding Waterfowl Survey,
which is very important since a large proportion of the ducks
harvested in Wisconsin are raised in Wisconsin,” Van Horn said.

The other two sources are a survey of Canada geese, the
Mississippi Valley Population Breeding Survey by the Ontario
Ministry of Natural Resources, and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
breeding survey for the northern United States, Canada, and
Alaska.

Duck outlook

Breeding areas in Canada had mostly fair to good conditions with
smaller areas of excellent and poor habitat. Waterfowl breeding is
expected to be good overall in Canada. Precipitation and wetland
habitats in the U.S. prairies for 2009 were mostly good to
excellent with significant flooding in large areas.

In Wisconsin, wetland conditions were highly variable, with
average to wet conditions in the southern part of the state and
drought conditions in northwestern counties. Breeding and
brood-rearing habitat in southern Wisconsin is expected to be good
in 2009, but poor in northern Wisconsin.

The four most abundant ducks in Wisconsin’s fall harvest are
mallards, wood ducks, green-winged teal, and blue-winged teal. Van
Horn said many of the ducks shot in Wisconsin come from birds that
breed in Wisconsin, in contrast to other states in the flyway that
rely more heavily on birds raised in the prairies or forests of
Canada.

The 2009 total Wisconsin breeding duck population estimate of
502,416 is down 20 percent from 2008, but is 16 percent above the
long-term mean (36 years). The difference in the total duck
estimate between 2008 and 2009 is largely explained by unusually
high 2008 estimates for blue-winged teal and the “other duck”
components that returned to more normal levels in 2009. Overall
survey results indicate a healthy, relatively stable population of
breeding ducks in Wisconsin experiencing normal annual
fluctuations.

“These are population estimates – not exact counts – so changes
of near 20 percent up or down in the estimates each year may not
reflect any real change in the actual population,” Van Horn
said.

The mallard estimate of 200,497 is a 6-percent increase over
2008 and is 10 percent above the long-term mean. Mallards make up
nearly 40 percent of the state duck harvest.

The blue-winged teal breeding population showed a 37-percent
decrease from 2008, but was just 2 percent below the long-term
mean.

“We continue to have a concern for sustainable breeding habitat
for both mallards and breeding blue-winged teal in Wisconsin,” Van
Horn said. “While our conservation efforts of the past have been
successful, the threats to decreased grassland nesting habitat for
blue-winged teal and mallards have increased with changes to the
federal farm bill in 2008 that have led to withdrawals from the
Conservation Reserve Program.”

The population estimate for wood ducks was 10 percent below
2008, but 51 percent above the long-term mean. Current trend
analysis for wood ducks in Wisconsin suggests that the long-term
increase in the breeding population has leveled off near
120,000.

Canada goose outlook

“There are two populations of Canada geese that represent most
of the geese in Wisconsin during the regular fall season. Our
harvest is about 50 percent from each of these populations during
the regular hunting seasons,” Van Horn said.

One population, called resident giant Canada geese, nests in
Wisconsin. The statewide breeding population estimate of 148,293 is
up 27 percent from 2008 and is 84 percent above the long-term mean.
Van Horn said the cause of the higher estimate in 2009 is unclear,
but could represent variation in the survey or a real population
increase.

The second Canada goose population is the Mississippi Valley
Population, which is made up of birds that nest along the coast of
Hudson Bay and migrate through Wisconsin. The estimated 2009
breeding population of MVP Canada geese was 239,631, down from
305,191 in 2008, and was 35 percent below the 1989 to 2008 average.
In contrast, the 2009 total spring population estimate was 518,232,
below that of 2008 (626,358) but only 3 percent below the 10-year
average. The total population includes the breeding birds, as well
as non-breeders.

“These preliminary numbers indicate a year of waterfowl numbers
with a mix of good and bad news, but we will not know for sure what
these mean (for season frameworks) until after the Mississippi
Flyway Council meeting at the end of July,” Van Horn said.

The Mississippi Flyway Council is made up of waterfowl
specialists from Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa,
Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri,
Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, and the provinces of Manitoba,
Ontario, and Saskatchewan within the Mississippi Waterfowl Flyway.
The council will meet later this summer to advise the USFWS on
waterfowl conditions before the federal agency sets a framework
under which states and provinces can set seasons.

Following the flyway council meeting and after the USFWS sets a
season framework, public hearings on Wisconsin’s proposed waterfowl
seasons will be held in August. The final Wisconsin seasons will be
set by the Natural Resource Board at its Aug. 12 meeting in
Hayward.

Van Horn said hunters may look for the DNR’s proposed seasons
later in July on the Waterfowl in Wisconsin pages of the DNR web
site. Comments on the proposed season should be received by
Thursday, Aug. 6, and should be directed to: James Christopoulos,
Migratory Game Bird Assistant, Bureau of Wildlife Management,
Wisconsin DNR, P.O. Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921, by phone at
(608) 261-6458, or by e-mail to:

james.christopoulos@ wisconsin.gov.

The following meetings on waterfowl surveys and possible season
structures will be held:

€ Friday, July 10 – 2009 Pre-Flyway Meeting, 7 p.m., Comfort
Suites, Wisconsin Room, N5780 Kinney Rd., Portage.

€ Saturday Aug. 1 – 2009 Post-Flyway Meetings, 9 a.m.
Conservation Congress waterfowl committee meeting and 1 p.m. public
meeting, The Plaza Hotel & Suites, 201 N. 17th Ave.,
Wausau.

Public hearings

€ Monday, Aug. 3 – La Crosse, 7 p.m., state office building,
rooms B-19 and B-20, 3550 Mormon Coulee Road.

€ Tuesday Aug. 4 – Rice Lake, 7 p.m., Wisconsin Indianhead
Technical College, Room 243, 1900 College Dr.

€ Wednesday Aug. 5 – Appleton, 7 p.m., Agricultural Services
Center, main conference room, 3369 West Brewster St.

€ Thursday Aug. 6 – Pewaukee, 7 p.m., Comfort Suites, N14 W24121
Tower Place.

€ Wednesday Aug. 12 – NRB meeting, 8:30 a.m., Hayward, location
to be determined.

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