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2011 Waterfowl Forecast

Duck populations soared to record highs this spring 
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Central Flyway

The Central Flyway receives most of its waterfowl from the prairies, with the majority of ducks coming from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Most of this flyway's geese, as well as most of its scaup, wigeon, and green-winged teal, are raised in the western boreal forest and Arctic. 

Saskatchewan consistently ranks at the top of North America's most important waterfowl breeding areas. In 2011, an estimated 10.7 million breeding ducks were surveyed across this province's vast prairie and parkland regions—a 56 percent increase from the previous year's estimate. Pintails posted the most impressive increase (+233 percent), followed by shovelers (+88 percent), blue-winged teal (+83 percent), canvasbacks (+74 percent), wigeon (+46 percent), scaup (+41 percent), redheads (+38 percent), and mallards (+23 percent). In fact, southern Saskatchewan alone supported roughly one-fifth of the mallards; one-quarter of the pintails and blue-winged teal; one-third of the gadwalls, redheads, and shovelers; and half of the canvasbacks in the entire traditional survey area. 

DU Canada biologist Dr. Michael Hill reports that exceptionally wet weather created excellent habitat conditions for breeding waterfowl across much of southern Saskatchewan, including in key waterfowl production areas like the Missouri Coteau and Allan Hills. "The abundance of water provided good habitat for nesting pairs, and our field staff have seen large numbers of broods across the province," Hill says. "We expect waterfowl production to be good to excellent this year in southern Saskatchewan."

In the north-central United States, runoff from a heavy snowpack and frequent spring rains also created excellent wetland conditions. A record 15.7 million breeding ducks were surveyed on the U.S. prairies—more than one-third of the total in the traditional survey area. "The Great Plains states experienced another impressively wet year in 2011, and ducks responded accordingly," reports DU biologist Dr. Johann Walker. "In the eastern Dakotas, the pond count was 115 percent above the long-term average, and the breeding duck population was 172 percent above the long-term average.Initial reports from field crews indicate that nesting effort and nesting success were most likely above average as well. Recent trends in breeding duck populations in the Prairie Pothole Region continue to reinforce the idea that existing habitat is sufficient to produce abundant ducks under favorable conditions. Nevertheless, since most ducks are produced on unprotected agricultural lands, and escalating losses of key wetland and grassland habitat are expected as global demand for food and energy increases, continued conservation efforts by DU and its partners will be required to sustain duck populations for the long term in this important waterfowl region."  

The goose production outlook in the Central Flyway is mixed. Surveys of northern breeding areas indicate that fall populations of white-fronted geese and large subspecies of Canada geese should be up this year. Among smaller subspecies of Canada geese, average production was reported among the Tall Grass Prairie Population, while the Short Grass Prairie Population appears to have experienced slightly-below-average production. Midcontinent light geese, which include both lesser snow geese and growing numbers of Ross's geese, are expected to have an average fall flight this year with typical numbers of juvenile birds in the population.    
The 2010-2011 Waterfowl Season in Review Waterfowl harvests and hunting activity (measured by total days hunted) remained at high levels last year. During the 2010−2011 waterfowl season, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 1.1 million waterfowl hunters bagged 14.9 million ducks in the United States. The previous season, approximately the same number of hunters harvested 13.1 million ducks. Mallards were once again the most commonly taken duck species, followed by green-winged teal, gadwalls, blue-winged/cinnamon teal, and wood ducks (in that order). Last year's goose harvest of 3.2 million birds was essentially unchanged from the previous year's harvest. U.S. hunters spent an estimated 6.6 million days afield in pursuit of ducks during the 2010−2011 waterfowl season, also roughly the same as the previous season. 
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