BISMARCK, N.D. — Drought in much of North Dakota this summer is likely to reduce the number of ducks available to hunters in the fall.
Duck broods in the state are down 5 percent from last summer, according to a recently concluded survey by the state Game and Fish Department. Officials cite a longer-term trend of less grassland habitat and fewer wetlands this year.
Fewer wetlands impact ducks in several ways, according to Game and Fish Migratory Game Bird Supervisor Mike Szymanski. There’s less water to attract breeding ducks in the spring, fewer insects to feed young ducks, and longer distances for young ducks to travel on foot after they leave the nest, making them more vulnerable to predators.
“Early season hunting probably won’t be as good,” Szymanski said. “Our hunters are going to be more reliant on (ducks) coming out of Saskatchewan (Canada) later in the fall.”
The number of those migratory birds is “at the whim of Mother Nature,” Szymanski said, and Game and Fish is estimating an overall fall duck flight in North Dakota that’s down 8 percent from last year.
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows 82 percent of North Dakota in some stage of drought. Most of central and western North Dakota remains in extreme or exceptional drought, the two worst categories.
The amount of water available to ducks in the state was down 38 percent from last summer, with much of the loss in smaller, seasonal wetlands that dried up, according to the survey. Given that the state had the fewest number of breeding ducks in nearly a quarter century due primarily to reduced habitat, the duck production drop could have been worse.
“Semi-permanent wetlands were in such good shape coming out of winter, they were able to withstand some of the effects of drought,” Szymanski said. “If this were to continue another year, we’ll start to see the impact on larger, deeper wetland basins.”
Game and Fish plans a September survey to assess wetland conditions heading into the waterfowl hunting seasons. Opening day for ducks for North Dakota residents is Sept. 23. Nonresidents can begin hunting waterfowl in the state a week later.