DNR waterfowl numbers: Ducks vary, Canada geese soar
Population counts showed variable results for several species of ducks that breed in Minnesota, according to the results of the annual DNR spring waterfowl surveys.
“Mallard and blue-winged teal counts declined some from last year but we saw some increases in other species like ring-necked ducks, wood ducks and hooded mergansers,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. “However, there is always considerable variability in the annual estimates. The survey is designed for mallards and our breeding mallard population remains near its long-term average.”
This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 214,000, which is 15 percent below last year’s estimate of 250,000 breeding mallards and 6 percent below the long-term average measured each year since 1968.
The blue-winged teal population is 159,000 this year, 51 percent below last year’s estimate and 25 percent below the long-term average.
The combined populations of other ducks such as ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads is 263,000, which is 23 percent higher than last year and 48 percent above the long-term average.
The estimate of total duck abundance (excluding scaup) is 636,000, which is 19 percent lower than last year and 3 percent above the long-term average.
The estimated number of wetlands was 20 percent higher than last year and 5 percent above the long-term average. Wetland numbers can vary greatly based on annual precipitation.
The survey is used to estimate the number of breeding ducks or breeding geese that nest in the state rather than simply migrate through. In addition to the counts by the DNR, the continental waterfowl population estimates will be released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later this summer.
DNR survey methods
The same waterfowl survey has been done each year since 1968 to provide an annual index of breeding duck abundance. The survey covers 40 percent of Minnesota and includes much of the state’s best remaining duck breeding habitat.
A DNR waterfowl biologist and pilot count all waterfowl and wetlands along established survey routes by flying low-level aerial surveys from a fixed-wing plane. The survey is timed to begin in early May to coincide with peak nesting activity of mallards. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides ground crews who also count waterfowl along some of the same survey routes. These data are then used to correct for birds not seen by the aerial crew.
This year’s Canada goose population was estimated at 322,000 geese, higher than last year’s estimate of 202,000 geese and 9 percent above the long-term average.
“With the early spring and favorable habitat, Canada geese had a very good nesting year and there are lots of young goslings present across the state,” Cordts said.
The number of breeding Canada geese in the state is estimated via a helicopter survey of nesting Canada geese in April. The survey counts Canada geese on randomly selected plots located in prairie, transition and forested areas of the state and includes most of the state except for the Twin Cities area metro area.
The 2017 Minnesota waterfowl report is available at mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl.