Thanks to rains, North Dakota duck brood numbers see recent bounce-back, spike

(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologists expect a fall duck flight from North Dakota that is up 12 percent from last year, based on observations from the annual mid-July waterfowl production survey.

This year’s duck brood index was up 37 percent from last year, and showed 5.11 broods per square mile, an increase of 39 percent. Average brood size is unchanged at 6.76 ducklings per brood.

Migratory game bird management supervisor Mike Szymanski said conditions were pretty dry after the May breeding duck survey, which indicated duck numbers and wetlands were down. “But most of the state received abundant rainfall from late May through early July, which was encouraging for the summer survey,” he said.

The July survey showed duck production in the northern tier of the state was very good, and Szymanski mentioned that even areas farther south were still quite favorable. “We have been seeing good numbers of broods since the summer survey, and especially lots of young birds, which indicates renesting efforts were very strong,” Szymanski said.

Mallards, gadwall and blue-winged teal are the top three duck species that nest in North Dakota, and together they accounted for about 75 percent of the broods observed in the summer survey. Mallard brood numbers were up about 22 percent from last year, gadwalls were up about 47 percent, and blue-winged teal broods were up 45 percent. Blue-winged teal are typically the most prevalent breeding duck in North Dakota. In addition, pintail brood numbers were up 142 percent.

Observers also count water areas during the summer survey, and this year’s water index was up 11 percent from last year. Szymanski said wetlands in the north-central area were still below average, but other areas were close to or slightly above average.

“Wetland conditions are still on the dry side, as the early summer rains slowed down quite a bit,” he added. “The larger basins are in pretty good shape, and even some of the local smaller basins that were dry this spring were filled from the earlier rainfall. But the small, shallow basins are beginning to show the effects and have the potential to dry up before the hunting season begins.”

Game and Fish biologists will conduct a separate survey in September to assess wetland conditions heading into the waterfowl hunting seasons.

The Game and Fish summer duck brood survey involves 18 routes that cover all sectors of the state, except west and south of the Missouri River. Biologists count and classify duck broods and water areas within 220 yards on each side of the road.

The survey started in the mid-1950s, and all routes used today have been in place since 1965.

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