The annual breeding grounds survey shows water is plentiful and duck numbers are up. But there are a couple of possible negatives.
One is that flooding hit the upper Midwest, especially North Dakota, just after the annual aerial surveys were made, but duck nesting effort should be strong nonetheless. Second, those major floods in Arkansas, especially the eastern part of the state in April and May could impact habitat conditions and duck migration patterns later in the year.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said improved conditions in much of the waterfowl breeding habitat in Canada and the prairies of the north-central United States have contributed to higher populations of many species of ducks, according to breeding population estimates.
AGFC Waterfowl Program Coordinator Luke Naylor said that high breeding duck populations are always a welcome, positive sign that can build excitement and anticipation for the upcoming waterfowl season. "Of course, many factors leading up to and during duck season have diverse impacts on realized hunting success, but high spring duck populations have historically been correlated with high harvest," Naylor said.
The preliminary estimate of the total duck population from the traditional survey area (north-central United States, south-central and northern Canada, and Alaska) was a record 45.6 million birds. This estimate represents an 11 percent increase over last year's estimate of 40.8 million birds and is 35 percent above the long-term average (the total duck estimate excludes scoters, eiders, long-tailed ducks, mergansers, and wood ducks).
The surveys are summarized in the 2011 Report on Trends in Duck Breeding Populations, which contains information about the status of duck populations and wetland habitats found during spring of 2011.
Other highlights from the traditional survey area include:
*Estimated mallards were 9.2 million birds, a 9 percent increase from the 2010 estimate of 8.4 million birds and 22 percent above the long-term average.
*Estimated blue-winged teal were a record 8.9 million, which was 41 percent above the 2010 estimate of 6.3 million, and 91 percent above the long-term average.
*Estimated northern pintails were 4.4 million was 26 percent above the 2010 estimate of 3.5 million, and similar to the long-term average.
*Estimated wigeons were 14 percent below the 2010 estimate and 20 percent below the long-term average.
*The combined (lesser and greater) scaup estimate of 4.3 million was similar to that of 2010 and 15 percent below the long-term average of 5.1 million. The canvasback estimate of 700,000 was similar to the 2010 estimate and 21 percent above the long-term average.
In the traditional survey area habitat conditions were generally good to excellent, with the exception of a region of boreal forest in the west-central portion. Habitat conditions across the Prairies generally improved relative to 2010, especially in Canada. The total pond estimate (Prairie Canada and the North-central U.S. combined) was 8.1 million, 22 percent higher than the 2010 estimate of 6.7 million ponds, and 62 percent above the long-term average.
Naylor says that particularly notable this year is the extent of excellent habitat conditions in the southern Canadian prairies. "While good habitat is welcomed in any portion of the Prairie Pothole Region, this region has not been this wet for several years and is a known duck producer when conditions are right," he said. "Arkansas is fortunate to receive waterfowl originated from all over the continent. However, historically this region is especially important for producing Arkansas-bound ducks – especially mallards and pintails – and should do so again in this year of excellent habitat conditions and high duck populations," Naylor added.
In the eastern survey area, estimated mallard abundance was 400,000 birds, similar to the 2010 estimate and the long-term average. Estimated black duck abundance was 400,000 birds, which was similar to 2010, but 13 percent below the long-term average. Habitat conditions in the eastern survey area were good to excellent; in particular, conditions in Ontario and southern Quebec improved from 2010 to 2011.
The surveys are conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Services' Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, which involves sampling more than two million square miles of waterfowl habitat across the north-central and northeastern United States, south-central, eastern, and northern Canada, and Alaska. Information is not included from surveys conducted by state or provincial agencies.
The annual survey guides the Service's waterfowl conservation programs under authority of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Service works in partnership with state biologists from the four flyways – the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific Â— to establish regulatory frameworks for waterfowl hunting season lengths, dates, and bag limits.