WILDLIFE SURVEY: Duck numbers decline compared with last year’s count

Staff reportJuly 21, 2013 

Duck numbers are showing a slight decline compared with last year, but most species remain well above long-term averages, according to an assessment from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

On July 12, the Fish and Wildlife Service released report “2013 Trends in Duck Breeding Populations,” based on surveys conducted in May and early June.

The total duck population was estimated at 45.6 million breeding ducks in the surveyed area. That is a 6 percent decrease from last year’s estimate of 48.6 million birds, but is 33 percent above the 1955-2012 long-term average.

“This spring saw abundant moisture in much of the heart of North America’s most important duck breeding areas,” Ducks Unlimited chief scientist Dale Humburg said in a news release. “That bodes well for duck breeding success this summer and hopefully for hunting this fall.

“But we remain concerned with continuing loss of nesting habitat in these areas. Because ducks need both water and upland habitats to successfully raise their young, the ongoing loss of grasslands and wetlands across the Prairie Pothole Region will continue to impact the number of ducks in the fall flight.”

Two of the main factors for duck breeding success are wetland and upland habitat conditions in the key breeding area of the prairies and the boreal forest. Conditions observed across United States and Canadian survey areas during the 2013 survey were improved or similar to last year in many areas because of average to above-average annual precipitation. The exception were southeastern Canada, south-central Alberta along the Montana border, the northeast U.S. and portions of Montana and the Dakotas.

Total pond counts for the United States and Canada combined showed 6.9 million ponds, a 24 percent increase from last year’s estimate and 35 percent above the long-term average.

Of the 10 duck species surveyed, seven populations were similar to last year’s estimates, including mallards. Down 2 percent in number compared with 2012, mallards are 36 percent above the long-term average. American wigeon were 23 percent above last year.

Significantly below last year’s estimates were scaup (down 20 percent) and blue-winged teal (down 16 percent). Two species, northern pintail and scaup (both down 17 percent), remained below their long-term average and North American Waterfowl Management Plan goals.

“This year we also experienced very late winter conditions across much of the United States and Canada,” said Humburg said in the release. “These conditions delayed the arrival of some ducks on their traditional breeding grounds and may have impacted breeding and nesting success.

“Even with abundant moisture on the prairies and good breeding success this year, the weather and habitat conditions the birds encounter on their fall migrations will impact local hunting success. Many areas along traditional migration routes are experiencing significant drought, and this will likely have an effect on how many birds hunters see this fall.”

The spring surveys provide the scientific basis for many management programs across the continent, including hunting season dates and bag limits. The four flyway councils and the US Fish and Wildlife Service Regulations Committee will meet later this month to recommend the season structure and bag limits for the 2013-14 hunting season. Individual states will make their specific selections within a federal framework of season length, bag limit and dates. Hunters should check the rules in their states for final dates.

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