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Banding Together for Waterfowl

2011 Waterfowl Forecast

Duck populations soared to record highs this spring 
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Pacific Flyway

The majority of Pacific Flyway waterfowl are raised on the prairies of the United States and Canada, as well as in Alaska, northwestern Canada, and other western states. Alberta is a vital breeding area for continental waterfowl populations, but is especially important to Pacific Flyway waterfowl. In 2011, an estimated 4.3 million breeding ducks were surveyed across the Prairie Pothole Region of this province. This year's breeding duck population in southern Alberta was up 66 percent from last year and was similar to the long-term average. Several species posted significant increases, including pintails (+171 percent), green-winged teal (+112 percent), redheads (+85 percent), scaup (+80 percent), American wigeon (+61 percent), blue-winged teal (+60 percent), and mallards (+57 percent).  

DU Canada biologist Ian McFarlane reports that habitat conditions were excellent for breeding waterfowl across the grasslands of southern Alberta, a highly productive breeding area for pintails, mallards, and many other ducks when wetland conditions are favorable. In addition, heavy rainfall in late May and June recharged wetland basins across much of Alberta's aspen parkland region. "Upland nesting habitat was in good to excellent condition across Alberta's agricultural zone, and wet weather delayed haying activity, which likely enhanced nesting success," McFarlane says. "Our field staff observed increasing numbers of duck broods as the season progressed, and Canada goose goslings were almost fully feathered by mid-July. Overall, the waterfowl production forecast is above average on the prairie and average in the aspen parkland." 

When the prairies are dry, as they often are, many breeding ducks simply bypass the parched pothole country and settle farther north in the boreal forest and Arctic, where wetland conditions are less variable. The opposite occurs when the prairies are wet, as this year's waterfowl surveys likely indicated. Across central and northern Alberta, northeastern British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories, total breeding ducks decreased 19 percent in 2011. Fewer waterfowl were also surveyed in Alaska and the Yukon Territory, where duck numbers were down by roughly one-third from the previous year's estimate. Nevertheless, these northern survey areas were hardly devoid of waterfowl, collectively supporting almost 11 million breeding ducks, or nearly one-quarter of the total population in the traditional survey area. 

Habitat conditions were excellent for breeding waterfowl across the grasslands of southern Alberta, a highly productive breeding area for pintails, mallards, and many other ducks.

"Wetland conditions were generally good for breeding waterfowl in the Yukon," reports DU Canada biologist Brent Friedt. "Ponds were full this spring, and runoff was high in late May from snow melt. In the Northwest Territories, spring was generally dry. Yellowknife received lower-than-normal precipitation in May and June, while precipitation in the Norman Wells area was normal. Northern Alberta remained relatively dry, but because of the more permanent nature of boreal wetlands, there was still habitat available to breeding ducks. In fact, many broods were reported throughout the area this summer, so fair to average production is likely despite the dry conditions."

Far to the south, in the western contiguous United States, waterfowl habitat conditions have improved in many areas. An estimated 559,000 ducks—including 315,000 mallards—were surveyed in California this spring, and estimates of both total ducks and mallards were statistically similar to those of the previous year and the long-term average. Waterfowl numbers varied across Washington and Oregon, but wetland conditions were generally favorable for breeding ducks and geese in these states. 

The goose production outlook in the Pacific Flyway is mixed. Surveys conducted in Alaska and the western Canadian Arctic suggest that fall populations of most geese should be average or similar to last year's. Notable exceptions include white-fronted geese, which should have a large fall flight in 2011, and cackling geese, which are expected to have a smaller fall flight than last year's. 
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