State duck counts decline

Bemidji, Minn. – The number of mallards counted during the annual May breeding waterfowl population survey in Minnesota was similar to the long-term average, but it’s pretty much downhill from there.

The estimated mallard population – 225,000 birds – is 21 percent lower than last year, and 17 percent lower than the 10-year average. The long-term average (since 1968) is 226,000 mallards.

In addition to drops in ducks, wetland numbers during the survey – April 30 through May 17 – were lower than last year, too. This year’s pond estimate – 228,000 – is 37 percent lower than last year and 10 percent below the long-term average.

“It was a very unusual spring for weather, wetland conditions, and breeding waterfowl,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. “We had record warm temperatures and early ice-out by late March, so ducks moved into the state early. But wetland conditions were extremely dry at that time. Conditions have improved dramatically since then, but much of that precipitation came after ducks had already begun nesting or moved through the state.

“Those, and other factors, make it more difficult than usual to interpret this year’s population indices,” he added.

Among the other survey results:

  • Estimated blue-winged teal population was 109,000, which is down from last year (214,000) and 50 percent below the long-term average of 219,000.
  • The estimated population of “other ducks,” not including scaup, was 135,000. That’s 29 percent below 2011, 39 percent below the 10-year average, and 24 percent below the long-term average.

This year’s estimate of total duck abundance – 469,000 – is 32 percent lower than last year’s estimate of 687,000 ducks. It’s 33 percent below the 10-year average and 25 percent below the long-term average.

While the survey is designed to count breeding mallards, it also includes migrant ducks because they’re in various parts of the state at the same time.

“It was a goofy year to interpret some of the data,” Cordts said. “It was a strange year for both temperatures and wetland conditions. It changed during the spring enough that I think it impacted migration of the birds and the timing of some of the migrants.”

Cordts wasn’t surprised by the duck-number declines, especially given that wetland conditions were worse than last year. But the timing of the survey itself also likely affected the results.

“When you fly the survey late, the mallard numbers and overall duck numbers go down,” he said. Migrants, for example, are leaving the state, and drake mallards are grouping up and leaving the state to molt. “Even though we started early because of the weather, in May the survey was flown later than average. That plays a role in this year’s estimates.”

Waterfowl production

Even before this year, the state’s Canada goose population was in good shape. This year’s breeding survey, conducted in April, revealed an estimated population of 434,000, which is up from last year’s estimate of 370,000.

There was a record number of goose broods observed during the May waterfowl survey thanks to the an early nesting effort.

“Broods are maybe a week to 10 days early,” Cordts said. “They are fairly advanced for this time of year.”

Likewise, he expects duck production to be good this year.

“As far as reports of broods and things, it’s all anecdotal – we don’t do any formal brood surveys,” Cordts said. “But from what I’ve heard and seen, generally things are a little bit early, and there certainly seem to be fair numbers of duck broods out.

The improvement in wetland conditions will help with brood-rearing. There is more wetland habitat, which is good for survival of broods.”

Categories: Hunting News, Hunting Top Story, Waterfowl

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