MEMPHIS, Tenn. – July 3, 2012 – 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 1955-2011 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."
Habitat conditions observed across the U.S. and Canadian survey areas during the 2012 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey were characterized by average to below-average moisture, especially in the southern portions. Significant decreases in wetland numbers and conditions occurred on the U.S. prairies in 2012. The estimate of ponds for the north-central United States was 1.7 million, 49 percent below the 2011 estimate of 3.2 million and similar to the long-term average. Nearly all of the north-central U.S. habitat was rated as good to excellent in 2011; however, only the habitat in the Coteau region of North and South Dakota was rated as good in 2012, and no areas were rated as excellent habitat this year. Drastic wetland declines in western South Dakota and Montana resulted in mostly poor-to-fair habitat conditions.
Conditions in most portions of the Canadian prairies declined as well. Residual moisture from prior years ensured retention of permanent wetlands on the Missouri Coteau in Saskatchewan and near the Saskatchewan and Manitoba border, but temporary wetlands retained little moisture due to a shallow frost seal and below-average precipitation. The 2012 estimate of ponds in Prairie Canada was 3.9 million. This was 21 percent below last year's estimate and 13 percent above the 1961- 2011 average.
Total pond counts for the United States and Canada combined showed 5.5 million ponds, a 32 percent decrease from last year's estimate and 9 percent above the long-term average. This was the first time since 2008 that ponds dropped below 6 million.
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