Wisconsin spring waterfowl survey shows good breeding numbers

Madison — Wisconsin’s spring waterfowl population surveys show stable to increased numbers of breeding pairs, as well as relatively good wetland conditions that should result in increased production this year across most of the state.

Taylor Finger, DNR migratory bird ecologist, said that while fewer numbers of birds were observed than last year, an increase in the mallard population estimate and stable estimates for wood ducks and Canada geese were seen.

This survey information, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) continental duck survey and Ontario Canada goose survey provides annual waterfowl breeding conditions and is used to determine the fall season structure for Wisconsin. The full survey report is posted on the DNR web site.

Wisconsin experienced record- low temperatures in April, with lakes in northern Wisconsin still frozen on May 5. This stalled migration and breeding activity by mallards and Canada geese. Average and above-average temperatures across most of the state followed in early May.

With near average precipitation in May following the survey, wetland conditions remained average to above-average for brood rearing, and Wisconsin is expected to provide good duck production in 2018.

A relatively mild winter in 2017-18 in most parts of the state, combined with average precipitation in April and May, led to average conditions throughout Wisconsin. Counts indicated dryer conditions than in 2017 in all regions of the state, but most areas were still above the long-term averages. Finger said considerable rain in May following the survey has helped Wisconsin remain at average or above average wetland conditions during the important brood-rearing period.

The Wisconsin breeding duck population estimate of 439,397 is down 8 percent compared to 2017, and is right at the 45-year average. Of the species-specific estimates for the state’s three top breeding ducks, (mallard, blue-winged teal and wood duck) mallards showed the largest increase from 2017.

Finger urged hunters to interpret the info in the context of several years and the continent.

“For example, the blue-winged teal breeding population in Wisconsin is lower than historic levels, but continental estimates the last few years have reached all-time highs, and two-thirds of Wisconsin regular duck season blue-winged teal harvest comes from out of state,” he said.

These breeding pair and habitat conditions are important to hunters as roughly 70 percent of mallard harvest in Wisconsin is supported by local ducks.

Canada goose population estimates similar to 2017

Wisconsin Canada goose harvest is supported by Canada geese breeding in northern Ontario, as well as those breeding in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin breeding estimate for Canada geese is similar to 2017 at 157,950 birds and consistent with a stable population of roughly 145,000, which is the 10-year average. Continental breeding waterfowl population estimates from the USFWS are expected in July.

In August, the Mississippi Flyway Council and flyway states will analyze survey data and provide recommendations to the USFWS regarding waterfowl regulations for 2019. These recommendations will help determine the framework under which states and provinces set waterfowl seasons.

Under new federal framework, Wisconsin conducted its annual waterfowl season hearings this spring, and the Natural Resources Board approved the season structure on April 10.


With earlier approval dates, 2018 migratory bird season regulations are now available online and at license vendors.

There were several significant changes to the 2018 waterfowl season structure. The first of the 2018 migratory game bird seasons will open with the early Canada goose, mourning dove and early teal seasons starting on Sept. 1. Regular waterfowl seasons will include a 60-day duck season that will start with a statewide opener on Sept. 29 and 92-day goose season that will have two splits to allow hunting during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Highlights from the 2018 season structure include:

  • North duck zone will open one week later than in previous years, resulting in a single statewide opener for all zones on Sept. 29;
  • Elimination of the Horicon Canada goose zone (resulting in a single statewide regular zone);
  • Increase in the Canada goose bag limit to three birds per day;
  • A second split in the south Canada goose zone resulting in a goose season that is open during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, and;
  • Increase in the pintail daily bag limit (from one to two) based on USFWS season framework.

Registration of Canada geese and in-field validation of the Canada goose hunting permit is no longer required.

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