As we all know, ducks are a moveable resource, and
duck hunters have not exactly been feasting for many years. That’s
why any news about habitat conditions on the northern breeding
grounds and prospects for the fall flight is watched closely by
waterfowlers north and south.
Here is a report from North Dakota, as we head into
the summer duckling growing season…
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s annual spring
breeding duck survey showed an index of more than 4.1 million
birds, down slightly (-9 percent) from last year but 85 percent
above the long-term average (1948-2010). The 2011 index is the
ninth highest on record.
Wigeon (+15 percent), blue-winged teal (+12 percent) and
pintails (+4 percent and the highest since 1970) were the only
ducks to show an increase from last year. However, all species
except scaup were well above the long-term average.
Shovelers were down 13 percent from last year’s record high.
Mallards were down 4 percent, but had the sixth highest count on
record. Indices for all other species were below that of 2010, with
the most significant decreases for ruddy ducks (-62 percent),
lesser scaup (-58 percent) and redhead (-33 percent).
“Redheads and ruddy ducks were at record highs last year, and scaup
numbers were also well-above average,” said Mike Johnson, game
management section leader. “So their decline was not
The spring water index was up 31 percent from 2010 and 128 percent
above the long-term average. It was the second highest in survey
history and the highest since 1999. The water index is based on
basins with water, and does not necessarily represent the amount of
water contained in wetlands.
“Water conditions were exceptional throughout the state, with
abundant snow cover and significant spring rains filling most
basins,” Johnson said.
Additionally, reports indicate that all of the Prairie Pothole
Region in the United States and Canada (from Iowa to Alberta) has
excellent water conditions this year. “To our knowledge this is an
unprecedented occurrence, at least since surveys have been
conducted,” Johnson said.
However, nesting cover in North Dakota continues to decline. During
the survey, Johnson noted many large tracts of grassland and
Conservation Reserve Program land that had been converted to
cropland since last year, or were in the process of being plowed.
“North Dakota currently has about 2.6 million acres of CRP, which
is down about 22 percent from 2007,” Johnson added. “Projections
are that nearly 400,000 acres will be lost in 2011, and an
additional 1 million acres will be lost in 2012-13. The loss of
critical nesting cover will be disastrous for breeding ducks and
hunting opportunities in the future.”
The July brood survey will provide a better idea of duck production
and insight into expectations for this fall. Observations to date
indicate prospects for high production across the state due to
excellent water conditions and increased wetland availability for