Little change to state’s breeding waterfowl population
Bemidji, Minn. — The number of breeding ducks in Minnesota this spring was down slightly from last year, according to a report the DNR released earlier this week.
The estimated duck population this year was 531,000, compared with last year’s estimate of 541,000. The long-term average is 624,000, and this year’s estimate is the fourth-lowest since 1985.
Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist, said the counts don’t directly correlate to what hunters will see opening day.
“The bulk of what we see in the fall are young ducks, and that’s the bulk of what we shoot,” he said. “There is a whole lot of variability in production in Minnesota and elsewhere, the weather, and local habitat conditions and those elsewhere. So you kind of have to look at this with a grain of salt and not think too much or too little about what this will mean opening day.”
According to the survey, the mallard population rose slightly from last year – from 236,000 to 242,000. That’s 15 percent below the 10-year average, but 8 percent above the long-term average.
There were slightly fewer blue-winged teal – 132,000 this year compared with 135,000 last year. The estimated teal population is 36 percent below the 10-year average and 40 percent below the long-term average.
“Teal numbers are fairly low and they’ve been below average now for about 6 years,” Cordts said. “It probably points to just a lack of habitat that teal tend to prefer. Teal aren’t the only species that really like shallow temporary and seasonal habitat, but it probably influences them settling in certain areas more than other species.”
Continentally, teal populations are “as high as they have ever been – or close to it – this year,” he said.
Teal are a mobile duck species and it’s likely they settled in areas that were wetter later in April than Minnesota, Cordts said.
“Even when we do have water, it just doesn’t stay on the landscape very long in the spring,” in part because of tiling, he said. “Even when it’s wet, it’s essentially kind of dry.
“We probably just have to have the stars line up and get some rain event or a late thaw – as far as when those tiles start flowing – to have the landscape be very attractive for migrants to be here in early May. It just doesn’t seem like that’s happening much anymore.”
The population of canvasbacks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, redheads, ring-necked ducks, and wood ducks – known as “other” ducks in the survey report – was 157,000, 12 percent below the long-term average.
The estimated number of wetlands was 270,000, which is similar to the long-term average. It’s down 15 percent from last year.
“Wetland conditions were actually somewhat dry at the beginning of the survey in early May, but improved with rain events beginning in mid-May,” Cordts said in a news release. “While this is usually favorable for summer brood-rearing conditions, the drier conditions in April likely did not attract additional breeding ducks to settle in Minnesota.”
A nesting Canada goose survey in April showed an estimated population of 311,000 birds, which is up from last year’s estimate of 285,000.
“The number of breeding Canada geese has been relatively stable statewide for the past 10 years,” said Dave Rave, DNR goose specialist, in a release. “Because of the early spring this year and very favorable nesting conditions, goose production should be excellent. Most managers have been reporting good numbers of goose broods so far this summer, which should provide plenty of hunting opportunity this fall.”
From the waterfowl and water perspective, things are looking good in North Dakota.
The state’s spring breeding duck survey revealed more than 4.5 million birds, which is the third-highest on record. It’s an increase of 12 percent from last year, and is 107 percent above the long-term average, according to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
Indexes for most waterfowl species rose (pintails by 10 percent, mallards by 12 percent, redheads by 33 percent, scaup by 54 percent, green-winged teal by 91 percent, and ruddy ducks by 162 percent), while wigeon was the only species to decline (by 9 percent).
Water conditions also were good. The spring water index was up 5 percent from last year, and is 76 percent above the long-term average. While the index is the fifth highest in survey history and the highest since 1999, it may actually understate what’s on the ground now.
“I think the conditions may be better today than they were when they completed the surveys,” said John Devney, Delta Waterfowl senior vice president. “There are still a remarkable number of temporary and seasonal wetlands that are absolutely brim full, even here at the end of June.”
That’s atypical – most years, water conditions are best early and deteriorate as spring and summer wear on – and “should bode really well for a long and intense breeding effort,” Devney said.
“We should see a scenario where we have really good duckling survival,” he said.
While high duck numbers in the Dakotas are good from the perspective of the continental waterfowl population, there aren’t direct correlations to what duck hunters in Minnesota will see in their decoys this fall.
“Not as much as if we saw record numbers up in southern Manitoba or southeast Saskatchewan,” Cordts said.