USFWS: Duck numbers down in 2018

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday released its report on 2018 Trends in Duck Breeding Populations, based on surveys conducted in May and early June by FWS and the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Overall duck numbers in the survey area remain high. Total populations were estimated at 41.2 million breeding ducks in the traditional survey area, 13 percent lower than last year’s estimate of 47.3 million and percent and 17 percent above the long-term average. The projected mallard fall flight index is 11.4 million birds, down from the 2017 estimate of 12.9 million.

The main determining factor for duck breeding success is wetland and upland habitat conditions in the key breeding landscapes of the Prairies and the Boreal Forest. Conditions observed across the U.S. and Canadian survey areas during the 2018 breeding population survey were similar to or, in a few areas, declined compared to the 2017 survey.

The total pond estimate for the United States and Canada combined was 5.2 million, which is 14 percent below the 2017 estimate of 6.1 million and identical to the long-term average of 5.2 million.

“The dip in the population for prairie-breeding puddle ducks is not unexpected and by no means unprecedented given that conditions on the prairies this spring were drier than last year,” said Ducks Unlimited Chief Scientist Tom Moorman. “As a result, 2018 populations dropped accordingly. However, populations of all key species except northern pintails and scaup remain above long-term averages. This year’s breeding population decline is a reminder of the need to sustain the capacity of breeding habitats, particularly in the prairies as we go through natural variation in wetland conditions. Waterfowl populations are adapted well to short-term swings in habitat conditions, but we must continue to guard against the long-term loss of prairie breeding habitat.”

When and where birds will be depends on many factors. Food availability, habitat and weather conditions, and other factors all influence local bird abundance, distribution, behavior and, ultimately, hunter success.

The spring surveys provide the scientific basis for many management programs across the continent, including hunting regulations. Individual states set their hunting seasons in a federal framework of season length, bag limits and dates. Check the hunting regulations in your state for final dates and bag limits.

Species estimates:

  • Mallards: 9.3 million, 12 percent lower than 2017 and 17 percent above long-term average.
  • Gadwall: 2.9 million, 31 percent lower than 2017 and 43 percent above LTA.
  • American wigeon: 2.8 million, 2 percent above 2017 and 8 percent above LTA.
  • Green-winged teal: 3 million, 16 percent lower than 2017 and 42 percent above LTA.
  • Blue-winged teal: 6.5 million, 18 percent lower than 2017 and 27 percent above LTA.
  • Northern shovelers: 4.2 million, 3 percent lower than 2017 and 62 percent above LTA.
  • Northern pintails: 2.4 million, 18 percent lower than 2017 and 40 percent below LTA.
  • Redheads: 1 million, 10 percent lower than 2017 and 38 percent above LTA.
  • Canvasbacks: 0.7 million, 6 percent lower than 2017 and 16 percent above LTA.
  • Scaup: 4 million, 9 percent below 2017 and 20 percent above LTA

View all the data and get a species-by-species breakdown at

Categories: Waterfowl

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