US duck numbers higher than normal

BATON ROUGE, La. — Extra-wet conditions in the Dakotas and Montana resulted in a record-setting year for waterfowl in the United States and the projections for another 60-day duck season for Louisiana hunters.

The verdant northern U.S. states helped offset average-to-below average nesting conditions in Canadian prairielands and push the 2009 duck breeding populations to a 13 percent increase over 2008, according to the survey conducted in May by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service.

The survey’s mallard numbers show an increase from 7.724 million on the nesting grounds in 2008 to 8.512 million earlier this year. The USFWS uses the mallard count to set season frameworks for all U.S. waterfowl hunters. The 8 million-plus mallard count combined with the “pond count” — an increase of 45 percent over last year — triggers a “liberal” season, which for Mississippi Flyway states like Louisiana and Mississippi means a 60-day season.

Louisiana’s season dates and daily bag limits for its East and West Waterfowl Hunting zones will be revealed during the Aug. 6 Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting in Baton Rouge.

The oddity in May’s survey is that the northern U.S. appears to have more breeding ducks than the Canadian pothole regions. Potholes in the prairielands, especially ones filled with water, provide the ponds and the cover breeding ducks need for nesting and for rearing ducklings.

LSU wildlife professor Frank Rohwer is Scientific Director for Delta Waterfowl and has spent most of this summer in the Dakotas.

“If you would have told me 10 years ago we’d have twice as many pintails nesting on the U.S. side of the breeding grounds as Canadian prairie, I would have laughed in your face,” Rohwer said, after reviewing the latest survey data.

The numbers show that 1.4 million pintails stopped in the northern U.S. to nest this year compared with an estimated count of 664,000 in the Canadian prairie pothole regions.

Rohwer said the bluewing teal breakdown were more skewed to the U.S. states: 4.5 million bluewings in the Dakotas and eastern Montana to 2.5 million in Canada.

He said the highest percentage of mallards since the survey began in 1955 were nesting in the United States.

The estimated total of breeding ducks jumped to 42.005 million this year compared with 37.276 million in 2008. It tops the 41.172 million estimated in 2007’s survey.

The pond count was 6.434 million — it was 4.431 million in 2008 — and is 31 percent higher than the survey’s long-term numbers.

Joe Macluso/The Advocate