Encouraging signs for Canada goose, mallard numbers

Bob Lods With A Couple Geese

With the calendar turning the page into autumn, it’s time to start thinking about waterfowl hunting. Even though we enjoyed 25 days of an early nuisance Canada goose season in September, it can be difficult to really get into chasing geese when warmer temperatures (and mosquitos) are still hanging around. More importantly, there is good news on the horizon for some of our waterfowl populations.

For those interested in ducks and geese, there was a special virtual waterfowl meeting Sept. 21, 2022 that provided highlights of wetland management and research programs at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, and at Wildlife Management Areas Tonawanda, Oak Orchard, and Northern Montezuma. There were updates on the Atlantic Flyway waterfowl populations, as well as details on upcoming duck and goose hunting seasons. It even delved into the expected impoundment fall water level status in some of the WMAs. If you missed the meeting, a recorded version will be imbedded into the DEC website under the waterfowl hunting section under “What’s New.”

There was quite a bit of good news from the standpoint of population levels for some species of concern. Josh Stiller, Game Bird biologist out of Albany, provided some additional clarification following the online meeting. The first involved mallard populations:

“Mallard populations have rebounded from a low of approximately 1 million breeding birds to 1.2 million in eastern North America,” said Stiller.  “Based on the current breeding population, the data we have suggests there is more opportunity for additional harvest (i.e., larger bag limits).  Decisions on bag limits for the following hunting season (2023-2024) happen later in the Fall and we will have more definitive information this winter.”

When asked about the research underway to analyze the mallard situation, this is what Stiller had to say:

“Regarding the mallard research, a research group led by NYSDEC, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Ducks Unlimited, SUNY Brockport, and the University of Saskatchewan marked 330 female mallards last winter from South Carolina through the Maritimes of Canada.  This is a huge collaborative effort of 22 state, federal, and Ducks Unlimited partners to better understand what may be driving mallard population dynamics.  Using these transmitters and the movement data, we can infer the number of incubation attempts, nest success, and brood survival without visually observing the birds in the field.  The technology is impressive.  In the coming years we will have 3 graduate students working on these projects at SUNY Brockport and the University of Saskatchewan.   For more information on the study, please visit: https://atlantic-flyway-waterfowl-gps.weebly.com/.”

“Over the past 5 years, biologists from Atlantic Flyway and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been working on developing a population model that makes use of all the available data we have at our disposal for mallards (e.g., banding data, breeding waterfowl survey, harvest data, and more).  The culmination of that work was a new harvest strategy that pairs the biological data with our management objectives as a flyway (i.e., maximize opportunities, maximize the mallard population size, meet our legal mandates, and more), suggests that in most years we can support additional harvest of more than 2 birds per day, however we may periodically have to drop back down to 2 when the population warrants it.  Any changes to mallard bag limits would not happen until next year (the 2023-2024 hunting season).  As to what is driving the declines, there are many hypotheses that are supported by our population modeling – decreased juvenile survival, lower productivity, and harvest. There are many research projects being conducted on eastern mallards right now.  We hope to have a more complete picture of what may be limiting mallard populations.”

Canada goose numbers were also more encouraging and according to the online meeting, 164,000 breeding pairs of Canada geese were recorded earlier this year. With reduced season length and bag limits in some areas once again this year, the possibility of more liberal numbers in 2023-24 is hopeful.

“The Atlantic Population (AP) of Canada geese have responded rather quickly to reduced bag limits and season lengths,” insists Stiller.  “Arctic breeding geese must be managed very carefully and the evidence our harvest pressure affects populations (especially during poor productivity years) is very strong.  When we reduced bag limits and season lengths, we immediately saw an increase in survival and a reduction in harvest.  That, paired with pretty good productivity, allowed the population to recover quickly.  Season lengths and bag limits will likely be liberalized in the 2023-2024 season.  More information to come later this winter when the frameworks are finalized.”

Duck season will be opening the third Saturday this year in the Western Zone, Oct. 15. Canada goose season is purposely held off until the fourth Saturday so that the first group of AP migrating geese make it south.

“Framework dates are designed to let the first wave of AP birds move through northern latitude states before hunting seasons open,” said Stiller.  “The new research project being conducted by the Atlantic Flyway states, Canadian Wildlife Service, and the University of Delaware to assess these framework dates is a robust way using GPS transmitters.  This project will have a graduate student working on it and we hope to have more information in the next few years.”

When it’s time for the birds to head north again, they can often arrive in early March, which was why the area’s March season needed to be discontinued.

“Yes, there was evidence that in some years, a meaningful number of adult AP geese were being harvested in early March,” continue Stiller.  “Banding and the current GPS collar data supports that concern, so the frameworks were changed to ensure those special seasons for resident geese were not having an undue influence on migratory geese.”

“I’ll just add that we will be deploying hundreds of neck collars on migratory geese to study migration timing and routes.  This will be a multi-year effort as migration timing can vary annually based on weather events.  We want to understand how variable those routes and timing are, so maybe we can find new opportunities to harvest resident geese in ways that won’t negatively impact migratory geese.”

For a complete update on 2022-23 waterfowl hunting seasons and regulations check out https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/28888.html.

Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, New York – Bill Hilts Jr, Waterfowl

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