By Matt Young
This spring, ducks and geese returned once again to good wetland conditions across many of North America's most important waterfowl breeding areas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) reports that in the Prairie Pothole Region
, this year's estimate of 6.9 million May ponds was up 24 percent from the previous year's estimate of 5.5 million ponds. Waterfowl responded to favorable habitat conditions with a strong breeding effort, especially on the prairies. According to the USFWS, the total breeding duck estimate in the traditional survey area was 45.6 million birds, a slight decrease from last year's total but tied with the 2011 estimate, which was the second-largest population on record.
Forecast by Flyway:
Pacific Flyway | Central Flyway | Mississippi Flyway | Atlantic Flyway
A closer look at the data shows that seven of the 10 most common duck species remained at levels similar to last year. Of particular importance to hunters, mallards had a breeding population of 10.4 million birds in the traditional survey area, essentially unchanged from the 2012 estimate and 36 percent above the long-term average. This was the first time since surveys began in 1955 that mallard numbers exceeded 10 million birds in back-to-back years. Among other species, American wigeon numbers were up 23 percent, while scaup and blue-winged teal declined by 20 percent and 16 percent, respectively.
"Abundant precipitation in the heart of North America's most important waterfowl breeding areas set the stage for good duck breeding success this summer and hopefully for good hunting this fall," says DU Chief Scientist Dale Humburg. "Populations of mallards, canvasbacks
, blue- and green-winged teal
, and northern shovelers
remained above their North American Waterfowl Management Plan
goals, and we are encouraged by this spring's American wigeon numbers, which were above average for the first time in many years. Despite the good news in this year's survey, we continue to be concerned about populations of scaup and northern pintails
, which remained below their long-term averages, as well as ongoing habitat loss across the Prairie Pothole Region and in other high-priority waterfowl areas."
May pond counts and waterfowl breeding population estimates are compiled during extensive air and ground surveys conducted by staff from the USFWS, Canadian Wildlife Service, and state and provincial wildlife agencies. These surveys are essential to managing waterfowl populations and setting annual hunting regulations. The following report provides an overview of the status of habitat conditions and waterfowl populations across key breeding areas in the United States and Canada.
Fowl Fact: MALLARD INDEX While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service no longer issues a fall flight forecast for total ducks, the agency does calculate an annual fall flight index for midcontinent mallards. This year's index of approximately 13 million midcontinent mallards was statistically similar to last year's estimate and above the long-term average.