A quack fact: Duck count at record levels
Springfield — In a state where good news has been nearly as scarce as rain this summer, the “duck factory” up north has provided Illinois waterfowl hunters with a surprise shower of hope.
Record numbers of mallards, teal, scaup and other species were counted this spring.
“This is the highest duck count since we started the survey in 1955,” Frank Rohwer, Delta Waterfowl’s scientific director, said in reference to the annual Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, results of which were released to the public on July 3.
The mallard count came in at 10.6 million, a 15 percent increase over 2011 and a 39 percent increase over the long-term average of 7.6 million.
Overall, the total spring duck population in North American is the highest ever recorded, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service officials reported. Conducted in May, the survey puts the duck population at 48.6 million birds, a 7 percent increase from the record number of 45.6 million counted in 2011.
For Illinois hunters, the survey results are seen as encouraging.
The 2011-12 season was considered a success, based on activity at public hunting areas around the state. Duck harvests at public sites experienced a 48 percent jump over the 2010-11 season and a 32 percent increase over the five-year average. And the daily success rate of 1.14 ducks per hunter was 8 percent higher than the five-year average.
“The Illinois duck harvest improved due to good migrations of ducks and lack of freeze-up conditions in many areas,” now-retired DNR waterfowl biologist Ray Marshalla said during his annual post-season waterfowl hunting summary.
Marshalla cited last fall’s good food and weather conditions – along with the fact that there were plenty of ducks migrating from northern regions into the Illinois and Mississippi River valleys – for the good season.
Will the 2012-13 season be a repeat?
Biologists in the Prairie Pothole region and in other duck breeding grounds are optimistic. North Dakota wildlife officials had mixed reports, but in Canada and at other sites, there is a positive buzz.
“We had excellent wetland conditions in 2011, the second-highest pond count ever,” Rohwer said. “So last year, we made a pile of ducks. This year, we’re counting them.”
Aside from the good news about the mallard population, survey results suggested that scaup, also known as bluebills, are continuing their rebound. Scaup numbers were up 21 percent to 5.2 million. It is the seventh consecutive year that the bluebill count has gone up.
Blue-winged teal are estimated at 9.2 million, green-winged teal number more than 3.4 million and shovelers now top 5 million.
Gadwalls increased 10 percent over last year, and now total 3.5 million. The population is nearly double the long-term average for gadwalls.
American wigeon are up slightly to 2.1 million, but are still 17 percent below their long-term average.
Canvasbacks jumped 10 percent to 760,000, the fourth-highest count on record.
The only negative news from the spring count involved northern pintails and redheads, which declined to just under 1.3 million.
Northern pintails are down more than one million birds, from 4.4 million birds last year to 3.4 million.
“All in all, this is a great duck count,” Rohwer said.
Proposed duck hunting dates for Illinois are expected to be released soon.