The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released its preliminary report today on breeding ducks and habitats, based on surveys conducted in May and early June. Total populations were estimated at 48.6 million breeding ducks in the surveyed area. This estimate represents a 7 percent increase over last year's estimate of 45.6 million birds, and is 43 percent above the 1955-2010 long-term average. This year's estimate is a record high and is only the sixth time in the survey's history that the total duck population exceeded 40 million.
"Early indications were that the mild and dry conditions experienced across North America this past fall and winter would negatively impact spring pond conditions and allow increases in grassland conversion rates, ultimately impacting nesting efforts this season," said Ducks Unlimited Chief Scientist Dale Humburg. "Strong returning duck populations and late spring precipitation have brightened prospects for 2012 duck production. If nesting and brood-rearing conditions are favorable over the next few months, we could see another strong fall flight."
Of the 10 species traditionally reported, nine were similar to or increased in number from 2011. Two species (northern pintail and American wigeon) remained below their long-term average. Mallards, northern shovelers, blue-winged teal and scaup were bright spots on this year's survey. For the first time since 1999, mallard populations have exceeded 10 million. Northern shovelers and bluewings again reached record highs (5.0 and 9.2 million, respectively). Scaup numbers showed improvement and are above 5 million for the first time since 1991. Scaup numbers showed improvement and are above 5 million for the first time since 1991, but still remain below the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) population goal. Only three species—northern pintail, American wigeon and scaup—remain below NAWMP goals.
This chart summarizes information about the status of duck populations and wetland habitats during spring 2012, focusing on areas encompassed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) and Canadian Wildlife Services' (CWS) Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey.
"This year I am reminded again of the dynamic nature of wetland cycles and what happens when several years of strong production line up with the possible beginnings of a drought cycle," Humburg said.
"As good as the population news is this week, waterfowl and wetland habitats continue to face significant long-term threats. The Farm Bill and North American Wetlands Conservation Act are up for renewal by Congress this year and both are crucial to our ability to conserve this critical habitat. We are also fighting to increase our investment in wetlands conservation by raising the price of the federal duck stamp," said DU CEO Dale Hall. "Conservation is indeed at a crossroads this year."
Read the full press release.