Mixed bag in breeding duck, habitat survey

Waterfowl hunters hope that good nesting habitat translates to more ducks on the water this fall. 

BISMARCK, ND — Duck hunters will find a mixed bag of results in the 2005 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, which was released recently by the Division of Migratory Bird Management.

"The good news is that prairie Canada was wet this spring," said Rob Olson, president of Delta Waterfowl, "but the best news is that the Prairie Pothole Region in both the US and Canada received a lot of moisture after the survey was conducted, so conditions are even better than what the survey suggests.

"Recent rains could mean we'll see a better re-nesting effort from hens this year," said Olson. "More wetlands could also result in improved brood survival. Another benefit is that the ground is soaking up a lot of water, which could translate into improved wetland conditions by next spring."

But while things are looking up on the breeding grounds, there are still some concerns.

"The most disappointing finding of this year's survey is that while May ponds were up dramatically across prairie Canada, mallard numbers didn't respond accordingly," said Olson.

"May ponds in Saskatchewan were up 24 percent from the long-term average (1961-present), but mallards were 17 percent below the long-term average. That's cause for concern; it tells us something is wrong with the Canadian duck factory."

Breeding mallards across the traditional survey area of the US and Canada stood at 6.8 million, down 9 percent from a year ago and down 10 percent long-term. The total-duck breeding population across the traditional survey area was 31.7 million, down 1 percent from last year and 5 percent below the long-term average.

"The mallard population is now 37 percent lower than it was just six years ago in 1999," said Olson. "Hunters wondering why they're not seeing as many mallards as they did in the '90s need look no further than that number."

Another bright spot of the survey is that the northern pintail breeding population jumped from 2.2 million to 2.6 million, a 17 percent increase from a year ago. Unfortunately, pintail numbers are still 38 percent below their long-term average.

Other species showing increases from 2004 were American wigeon, up 12 percent to 2.2 million; blue-winged teal, up 13 percent to 4.6 million; and northern shoveler, up 28 percent to 3.6 million.

On the down side, gadwall fell 16 percent to 2.8 million, green-winged teal were off 12 percent to 2.2 million, redheads were down 2 percent to 592,000, canvasbacks slipped 16 percent to 521,000 and scaup dropped another 11 percent to 3.4 million.

Prairie Canada recorded 3.9 million May ponds, up a whopping 56 percent from last year and 17 percent higher than the long-term average. The US had 1.5 million May ponds, up 4 percent from last year but 4 percent below than the LTA. May ponds have been counted on the US side of the PPR since 1974.

The combined May pond count across the PPR was 5.4 million, 37 percent higher than last year and 12 percent above the LTA.

"May ponds in prairie Canada were 17 percent above the long-term average, but the prairie provinces attracted just 2.9 million breeding mallards," said Olson. "That number is 36 percent below the goal set by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP).

"Meanwhile, May ponds in the US were 4 percent below the long-term average, yet the US still attracted 1.7 million mallards, which is 42 percent above its NAWMP goals. What that tells us is that we still have some major production problems in prairie Canada."

The most extensive wildlife survey in the world, the spring breeding survey is conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service. This year marks the survey's 50th anniversary.

The survey released is being called preliminary because it does not include numbers from the Eastern survey area. The following numbers from the traditional survey area, however, are final.

Courtesy of Delta Waterfowl.
For more information phone toll-free 1-877-667-5656 (Canada), 1-888-987-3695 (USA) or visit their website at www.deltawaterfowl.org.