Ducks in the Balance
In 2012, a record 48.6 million breeding ducks were tallied
in traditionally surveyed areas of North America. While this was certainly good reason for celebration, veteran waterfowlers know that high duck populations can be closely followed by dramatic declines. During the past three decades alone, breeding duck numbers have ranged from a low of just over 25 million birds in 1990 to this year's record total. Such a high degree of variability isn't unusual or unexpected; waterfowl populations have always experienced booms and busts, and they will continue to do so during DU's next 75 years.
Among the more than 40 species of waterfowl
in North America, some are increasing while others are declining or remain at depressed levels. For example, populations of gadwalls, northern shovelers, green-winged teal, and lesser snow geese have gradually increased over the long term. Still others, notably northern pintails, scaup, American black ducks, and several sea ducks, have suffered long-term declines. With some species on the increase, others in decline, and a lot of variation from year to year, waterfowl management will remain a complex endeavor.
For many waterfowl species, the primary influences on population growth occur during the breeding season
. Nesting success
and hen and brood survival are particularly important. That's why the Prairie Pothole Region and western boreal forest, North America's most important waterfowl breeding areas, are DU's highest-priority conservation regions
But ducks and geese spend six to eight months in migration
and on their wintering grounds, and breeding waterfowl are most successful when they return north in good condition. DU's continental approach to waterfowl conservation, which includes work in every state and Canadian province, ensures that waterfowl can find the habitat they need on their way south to wintering areas and again during their return trip to the breeding grounds.
What about hunting? More than 20 million ducks and geese were harvested in the United States and Canada during 2011−2012 waterfowl seasons. Waterfowl harvests closely track duck and goose populations and hunting regulations. Federal, state, and provincial conservation agencies have the mandated responsibility to set seasons, bag limits, and other harvest regulations. In the future, DU will continue to support these agencies' harvest management efforts, but our focus will remain on habitat conservation. The numbers of ducks and geese surveyed each year, as well as trends in waterfowl harvest and hunter numbers, will continue to serve as barometers of DU's conservation success.