Duck numbers remain strong

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently released its preliminary waterfowl report, based on surveys conducted in May and June of this year. Total duck populations were estimated at 45.6 million breeding ducks. This estimate represents an 11 percent increase over last year’s estimate of 40.9 million birds and is 35 percent above the 1955‑2010 long-term average. This was only the fifth time in the survey’s history that the total duck population exceeded 40 million.
This report indicates nearly unprecedented waterfowl habitat conditions and breeding duck population levels for 2011. This year, full wetlands and good upland cover will likely support a strong breeding effort, particularly in the prairies.
Habitat conditions across the United States and Canada were considered excellent. Further north, wetland conditions in most boreal regions of Alaska and Northern Canada were good to very good at the time of the survey.
During the survey and into early summer, many regions important to breeding ducks continued to receive significant snow melt and further precipitation, which could increase later breeding efforts and ensure brood survival. If these wet conditions continue, prospects going into the winter and possibly into spring 2012 will be favorable as well.
In addition to extensive grassland cover, one of the most important elements in duck breeding success is the amount of water present in Canada and the North Central United States. Total pond counts showed 8.1 million ponds, a 22 percent increase from last year’s estimate and 62 percent above the long-term average. This was the second time in the survey’s history that ponds exceeded 8 million.
Of the 10 species traditionally reported, eight were similar to or increased in number from 2010. Two species (scaup and American wigeon) remained below their long-term average. Northern shovelers, blue-winged teal and Northern pintails were bright spots on this year’s survey. Northern shovelers and bluewings reached record highs (4.6 and 8.9 million, respectively), and Northern pintail numbers surpassed 4 million for the first time since 1980. Scaup numbers were similar to 2010 and remain below their long-term averages. Only three species – scaup, Northern pintail and American wigeon – remain below North American Waterfowl Management Plan population goals.
Fall weather and habitat conditions along migration routes will have a big impact on migration chronology and local hunting success. The USFWS spring surveys provide the scientific basis for many management programs across the continent including the setting of hunting regulations.