NESTING HABITAT IMPROVEMENT BOOSTS OVERALL DUCK NUMBERS
Populations of most species growing; wigeon and scaup still on decline
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has released its preliminary report on western breeding ducks and habitats, based on surveys conducted in May. Overall, breeding duck populations increased 14 percent since last year with an estimated 36.2 million on the prairies. Habitat conditions were also slightly better than last year, thanks to a warm winter and good precipitation.
One of the most important elements in duck-breeding success is the amount of water present on the prairie breeding grounds. When the survey was conducted in May, total pond counts for this area of the United States and Canada combined showed 6.1 million ponds, a 13 percent increase from last year’s estimate, and 26 percent higher than the long-term average.
Conditions for improvement were set last summer and fall when most areas in the northcentral U.S. and southcentral Canada had at least fair precipitation. That left ponds in better condition at freeze-up and also meant there was better-than-normal residual nesting cover on most upland habitats. The increased populations, along with timely precipitation this spring and summer, should create good conditions for nesting and brood rearing this summer.
Although overall populations have risen, there were mixed results among species of ducks. Mallard populations showed a smaller than expected 8 percent increase in numbers, with an estimated 7.3 million mallards on the prairies this spring, compared to last year’s estimate of 6.8 million birds. This is still 3 percent below the long-term average. But the best news coming out of the survey this year is that pintail numbers are up 32 percent although still 18 percent below the long-term average.
Most other species increased this year as well. Blue-winged teal jumped 28 percent from last year, with an estimated 5.9 million birds, 30 percent above the long-term average. Green-winged teal also increased 20 percent to 2.6 million birds, 39 percent above the long-term average.
Other species include an estimated 2.8 million breeding gadwall, boosting their population by 30 percent from last year, 67 percent above the long-term average. Redheads increased 55 percent from 2005 with 916,000 birds, 47 percent above the long-term average. Canvasbacks increased 33 percent from last year, with an estimated 691,000 breeding birds, 23 percent above the long-term average. Northern shovelers multiplied to 3.7 million, 69 percent above the long-term average.
Two species, however, suffered setbacks. Wigeon numbers dropped 2 percent, to 2.2 million birds, 17 percent below the long-term average, and scaup dropped by 4 percent, continuing a long-term pattern that has persisted for the last 20 years. Scaup are now 37 percent below the long-term average.
Throughout May and June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service surveyed from the main waterfowl breeding habitats in the mid-continent area to Alaska. These surveys serve as the scientific basis for many management programs across the continent, including the setting of hunting regulations.