Spring 2014 Habitat Conditions in Canada

DU Canada reports on Spring breeding conditions
Summary

After a long winter and late spring for most areas, the breeding season is underway.  Migrants were delayed by 1-2 weeks but are establishing nests in the North and showing a strong breeding effort in the Prairies.  More moisture will be needed in the Western Boreal Forest and in parts of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, while higher-than-usual water levels have posed some challenges for nesters in the Eastern Region.  Several areas are predicting a normal production year and next month's release of the 2014 Breeding Population Survey will provide more insight.

British Columbia / Western Boreal Forest Region

British Columbia        

Coast

It's been warm, and flood risks have been low because snow packs were lower than normal this year.  Water levels may be low this summer depending on weather patterns.  Local wetlands are at normal levels, and farmers are planting crops.

Many ducks and geese have moved through the area to breeding grounds after fueling up in fields, wetlands and important estuary habitats.  Resident waterfowl are nesting, and ducklings and goslings are present on local wetlands.

Interior
Despite near-normal overall snowfall this year, many wetlands are still below long-term levels in central and southern areas. Habitats associated with rivers and streams are generally in better shape than isolated waterbodies. 

After a long winter, migration was delayed by a couple of weeks.  Breeding effort is underway.  Goslings are common and ducklings are making an appearance.  

In the southeast Interior, early-spring conditions were normal after a good winter snowpack.

Peace

Favorable late-winter conditions and a good frost seal led to good spring runoff.  
There was a slight delay in migration, but breeding effort appears to be strong so far.  Waterfowl are well into the nesting period.

Western Boreal Forest

Despite cooler-than-average temperatures, the breeding season is progressing with early-breeding waterfowl establishing nests.
 
Habitat conditions should support abundant nesting birds across the western boreal forest.  However, moisture would be welcome.

It is too early to predict brood production, but the 2014 Breeding Population Survey will provide some hints.  The survey has been delayed in some boreal areas due to the persistence of ice cover.

Prairie Region

Alberta                            

A long winter and late spring meant a slow start to the breeding season.  However, recent warm weather and moisture have stimulated a strong breeding effort.  Ducks are nesting.
 
Habitat conditions are good overall, but the production outlook is average at this time given the late spring.  The results from the 2014 Breeding Population Survey will provide more insight when they are released in July.  In the meantime, the following observations were made by survey biologist Jim Bredy on May 31:

"The aspen parkland region between Red Deer and Edmonton had variable wetland conditions. While some areas were good to excellent, other areas had fair conditions. However, there were good numbers of birds on those ponds that were present. Several years of good hatches and lower-than-normal harvest have contributed to good numbers of birds returning to Southern and Central Alberta this year. I believe that overall production will be good in the Southern Alberta strata between Edmonton and the US border.

As we progressed further north into Central Alberta, we [noticed that] wetland and habitat conditions were not optimal, where many basins had lowered water levels. The central portion of the agricultural belt of "The Peace" country (between Grande Prairie and Peace River, Alberta) had some of the driest wetland basins, and poorest upland habitat conditions, in this survey area this year. Many of the semi-permanent wetlands (such as those in the prairie pothole region) were dry, or had extremely low water levels. With that being said, there are still some decent wetland basins in this area. I believe that waterfowl production will be fair in "The Peace" country this year."

Saskatchewan

For the second year, colder-than-average spring temperatures delayed runoff and waterfowl migration.  Ducks and geese returned 7-10 days later than normal, but were welcomed by abundant water in most areas.

Although it isn't flooding like in 2013, most areas are holding water, with very few dry basins being observed.  Several precipitation events — ranging from wet snow to thunderstorms — increased water levels throughout the month
of May.

Ducks began nesting shortly after arriving, with nests being discovered and numerous lone drakes being observed by the middle of May.  The first Canada goose broods made an appearance around the long weekend in May.

Some Arctic geese were still staging in the grain belt of Saskatchewan in late May, but most have now headed north to their breeding grounds.  Farmers have also been weeks behind schedule with seeding.

Manitoba

Spring arrived later than usual in southwest breeding areas, where the first melt didn't occer until April 5th.  Rain events have helped to maintain good conditions in Killarney, while the Minnedosa / Shoal Lake region and portions of the Virden landscape are in slightly better condition.

Wetlands are full so early-hatching birds should have ample brood waters.  The later-arriving spring may also result in peak hatch dates coinciding with initial haying dates if grass and hay lands receive a boost by warm weather in June.

The presence of lone northern pintail and mallard drakes indicated that nest initiation occurred around April 24th.  The frequency of those observations, along with the appearance of grouped drakes, suggests that early-arriving species transitioned rapidly from setting up territories to breeding and nesting.  The snow goose migration was largely absent for much of the province except in extreme southwest areas.

Eastern Region

Ontario

Spring arrived slowly, with significantly wetter- and cooler-than-normal conditions across the province.  Early-season duck habitats — such as vernal pools, flooded forests and flooded pastures — have lots of water across the southern agricultural land belt.  In addition, permanent brood-rearing wetlands are holding water.  

Waterfowl migration and breeding chronology have been delayed, but field reports indicate continued breeding effort by mallards, wood ducks and blue-winged teal throughout the spring.  The return of more seasonal temperatures in May should help ensure adequate duckling food supplies.

In southern and central Ontario, the peak Canada goose hatch was delayed by upwards of 1-2 weeks.  There is also evidence of renesting efforts in areas affected by spring flood events, but no widespread nesting failure has been recorded for geese this year.  Currently, goose breeding and brood-rearing habitat is generally good in southern and central areas.  

In Ontario's boreal region, weather reports indicate average to above-average precipitation and below-normal temperatures.  Normal but delayed production is expected despite the significantly longer winter, record cold and deep snowpack.
Quebec

The spring has been slightly cooler than normal, except along the St. Lawrence River and south of the river, where temperatures were near normal.  Early-spring precipitation was 30-60 per cent above normal everywhere except in eastern and lower St. Lawrence regions where amounts were 20-40 per cent below normal.  The mean St. Lawrence River water level remains very high for this time of the year, by about 75 cm.
 
The spring and breeding season were delayed, but the outlook for brood production should be good overall this year.
In coastal habitats of the Boreal, waterfowl habitats were free of ice as soon as usual.  In the interior, several lakes were still frozen by the end of May, but this doesn't seem to have affected waterfowl migration to the North.  As usual, waterfowl had vacated the St.Lawrence Lowlands by the first days of May to reach their breeding grounds.
Atlantic Canada

It's been a very wet spring, with record flood levels in many areas.  Given ample winter snowfall — coupled with a quick melt, springs rain and mild temperatures — water has been excessive and persistent this year.  

Nesting was delayed, and early nesters may have been forced into higher ground with so much of their typical nesting cover under water.  Many nests have been found depredated, but Canada geese goslings and mallards and American black ducks ducklings are making an appearance.

To view this as a PDF, or view past habitat reports, please visit Ducks Unlimited Canada.