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Heartland Outdoors

Breeding Duck Population Essentially Unchanged,  Wetter Conditions Boost Pintails

Wed, August 16, 2017

Annual breeding population survey estimates 47.3 million total ducks, with pintails increasing 10 percent to 2.89million

BISMARCK, NORTH DAKOTA — North America’s spring duck population remains strong, with pintails increasing 10 percent, according to the 2017 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey released today.

The annual survey, which has been conducted jointly by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service since 1955, puts the breeding duck population at 47.3 million, slightly lower than last year’s population of 48.4 million, but still 34 percent above the long-term average. The 2017 survey marks the fifth highest total breeding duck population estimate on record.

“The duck numbers remain really strong,” said Dr. Frank Rohwer, president of Delta Waterfowl. “Most duck populations remain near or above long-term averages.”

Following five years of declines, pintails have increased 10 percent to 2.89 million, but they remain 27 percent below the long-term average.

“Isn’t it great to finally have some good news to report about pintails?” Rohwer said. “They’ve increased due to the way water was distributed across the prairie this year. The pintails’ preferred breeding range — southern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan — provided ample shallow wetlands. I also expect pintail production to be substantially improved over last year. I expect the estimate is high enough that hunters will be blessed with a two-pintail daily limit for the 2018-19 season.”

The 2017 survey marks the highest estimate ever recorded for gadwalls, which increased 13 percent to 4.18 million, 111 percent above the long-term average. Blue-winged teal populations grew by 18 percent to 7.89 million, 57 percent above the long-term average. Northern shovelers climbed 10 percent to 4.35 million, 69 percent above the long-term average.

“Like pintails, bluewings and shovelers really responded to all of that water in southern Canada,” Rohwer said.

Following last year’s record high, mallards declined 11 percent to 10.49 million, but remain 34 percent above the long-term average. Wigeon fell 19 percent to 2.78 million, 6 percent above the long-term average. Green-winged teal decreased 16 percent to 3.6 million, still 70 percent above the long-term average. Redheads declined 13 percent to 1.12 million, 55 percent above the long-term average. The canvasback estimate of 733,000 is similar to last years estimate of 736,000 and 25 percent above the long-term average.

In the Eastern Survey Area, results are mixed. The mallard index is 445,000, which is up 7 percent, while green-winged teal rose 8 percent, goldeneyes jumped 10 percent and mergansers increased 15 percent.

However, the black duck breeding population dipped to 541,000, which represents an 11 percent decrease from 2016, and puts the species at 12 percent below its long-term average. Ring-necked ducks also declined by 19 percent to 463,000, which is 11 percent below the long-term average.

“Water conditions were great in the Eastern Survey Area,” Rohwer said. “Mallards responded, but surprisingly, black ducks and ring-necked duck numbers are down, which will affect hunters in the Atlantic Flyway.”

Across the U.S. and Canada, the May pond count registered 6.01 million — 22 percent higher than last year, climbing 17 percent above the long-term average. Pond counts in prairie and parkland Canada, which covers Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, increased 24 percent, 23 percent above the long-term average. Pond counts in the North-Central United States, which covers Montana and the Dakotas, are up 22 percent, 17 percent above the long-term average.

However, in the U.S. prairie, wetlands conditions were significantly better in May as the surveys were conducted, before drought impacted nesting conditions.

“I think the pond count is a little misleading, because wetlands in the Dakotas and parts of the southern Canadian prairies dried out quickly and dramatically following the surveys,” Rohwer said. “Renesting and brood survival are going to be far lower this year. I don’t expect the production we’ve seen in recent years.”

That’s important for hunters, who shoot the fall flight, not the breeding population.

“We will see a lot of birds flying south, but it’ll be more challenging for hunters because the flight will have a higher percentage of adult ducks.” Rohwer said.

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