49.2M: Breeding ducks at record levels
Bismarck, N.D. — Breeding duck numbers in the United States and Canada hit a record high this year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The USFWS recently released its annual report on the status of breeding ducks, which pegged the number of breeders this year at 49.2 million, the most since the survey began in 1955.
While numbers peaked this year, they’ve been historically high for the past several years. They’ve been above 45 million each year beginning in 2011, and were nearly 49 million in 2012.
This year’s breeding estimate, derived via surveys conducted in May and early June, is 8 percent higher than last year.
The report – “Trends in Duck Breeding Populations – 1955-2014” – also delivered good news on the pond-count front. The total pond count was nearly 7.2 million, which is 40 percent higher than the long-term average.
“Exceptional water this year will lead to high duck production,” Dr. Frank Rohwer, president of Delta Waterfowl, said in a press release. “When the prairies are really wet, ducks settle in the best quality habitat. Hens will nest and renest vigorously, and duckling survival will be high.”
The Prairie Pothole Region, which includes the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, as well as the Dakotas and eastern Montana, was especially wet during the survey.
And given high levels of precipitation through June, it’s likely many areas – including those that have temporary and seasonal wetlands – are even more wet than they were during the survey.
“This spring, as has been the case for the past several years, saw abundant moisture across much of North America’s most important duck-breeding areas,” Scott Yaich, chief biologist for Ducks Unlimited, said in a press release. “That bodes well for duck-breeding success this summer, and, we hope, for hunting this fall. But we remain concerned with the continuing and escalating loss of nesting habitat in these areas. Because ducks need water, wetlands to hold the water, and upland habitats to successfully raise their young, the ongoing loss of wetlands and grasslands in the Prairie Pothole Region will increasingly impact the number of ducks in the fall flight in the long-term.”
Following are estimates of the numbers of the 10 primary duck species included in the survey:
- Mallards: 10.9 million, which is the second-highest ever, similar to last year, and 42 percent above the long-term average.
- Gadwall: 3.8 million, which is the second-highest ever, similar to last year, and 102 percent above the long-term average.
- American wigeon: 3.1 million, which is 18 percent above last year and 20 percent higher than the long-term average.
- Green-winged teal: 3.4 million, which is the third-highest ever, similar to last year, and 69 percent ahead of the long-term average.
- Blue-winged teal: 8.5 million, which is the third-highest ever, similar to last year, and 75 percent above the long-term average.
- Northern shovelers: 5.3 million, which is a record high, similar to last year, and 114 percent above the long-term average.
- Northern pintails: 3.2 million, which is down 3 percent from last year and 20 percent below the long-term average.
- Redheads: 1.3 million, which is the highest on record, similar to last year, and 85 percent above the long-term average.
- Canvasbacks: 685,000, which is 13 percent below last year and 18 percent above the long-term average.
- Scaup: 4.6 million, which is 11 percent above last year and 8 percent below the long-term average.
Results of the breeding population survey form the basis of the waterfowl-hunting regulations that hunters will see this fall.
While there should be more birds in this year’s fall flight, that’s no guarantee that every hunter will enjoy success.
“We know that when breeding duck numbers are high and duck production is strong, hunters shoot more ducks,” Rohwer said. ”However, three other factors are probably as important as the breeding duck count. Weather is most critical, because that drives duck migrations. The site conditions such as food and available water at your honey hole impact hunting success, as does the amount of hunting pressure.”