Breeding duck count is highest on record
Laurel, Md. — The breeding duck population in North America soared to a record high this year, according to results of an annual survey that includes the United States and Canada.
Officials estimate there were 48.6 million breeding ducks in the survey area, which is 7 percent high than last year.
“This is the highest duck count since we started the survey in 1955,” Frank Rohwer, scientific director for Delta Waterfowl, said in a news release. “We had excellent wetland conditions in 2011, the second-highest pond count ever. So last year, we made a pile of ducks. This year, we’re counting them.”
While duck numbers were high, this year’s pond counts are well below last year. According to the report – Trends in Waterfowl Breeding Populations, 1955-2012 – pond counts are 32 percent lower than last year.
The U.S. prairies saw the largest declines in pond counts – a 49 percent drop from last year. The only spot where wetland habitat was rated as good as last year was in the Coteau region of North and South Dakota.
The pond estimate in Canada also was 21 percent below last year’s estimate.
“The Dakotas have carried a disproportionate load of continental duck production over the last few years,” said John Devney, senior director of U.S. policy for Delta Waterfowl. “If we get dry here and lose the wetlands and upland nesting cover, the U.S. prairies just won’t be able to produce at the amazing levels we’ve seen since the mid-1990s, and that will have a real impact on hunters everywhere.”
According to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s annual breeding waterfowl survey, nesting cover in that state continues to decline. There are about 2.3 million acres of CRP, which is 30 percent lower than the number of acres in 2007.
“Projections are that more than 650,000 acres will be lost in 2012, and an additional 1.1 million acres will be lost in 2013-14,” Mike Szymanski, a waterfowl biologist for NDGF, said in a news release. “The loss of critical nesting cover will be disastrous for breeding ducks, other nesting birds, and hunting opportunities in the future.”
But if the habitat news isn’t great, the opposite is true about this year’s duck counts.
Following is a look at the individual duck species:
- Mallards: 10.6 million, up 15 percent from last year and 40 percent above the long-term average. It’s the first time since 1999 that mallard populations have exceeded 10 million.
- Gadwall: 3.6 million, 10 percent above last year and 96 percent above the long-term average.
- American wigeon: 2.1 million, 3 percent above last year and 17 percent below the long-term average.
- Green-winged teal: 3.5 million, 20 percent higher than last year and 74 percent above the long-term average.
- Blue-winged teal: 9.2 million, a record high, 3 percent above last year, and 94 percent higher than the long-term average.
- Northern shoveler: 5 million, a record high, 8 percent above last year, and 111 percent higher than the long-term average.
- Redhead: 1.3 million, 6 percent below last year and 89 percent higher than the long-term average.
- Canvasback: 760,000, 10 percent higher than last year and 33 percent above the long-term average.
- Scaup: 5.2 million, 21 percent higher than last year and 4 percent above the long-term average.
- Northern pintail: 3.5 million, 22 percent below last year and 14 percent below the long-term average.
Devney speculates the dry conditions on the prairies caused pintails to simply continue flying north.
“Pintail numbers increased in northerly habitats such as Alaska,” he said. “This suggests (pintails) over-flew the prairies this spring. Research has well documented that in average or dry conditions, many pintails head north to the boreal forest. The survey’s ability to detect them is reduced.”