Duck Numbers up Overall - July 5th, 2006

MEMPHIS, Tenn., July 5, 2006 – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) today released its preliminary report on western breeding ducks and habitats, based on surveys conducted in May. Overall, duck populations increased 14 percent since last year with an estimated 36.2 million breeding ducks on the prairies. Habitat conditions were also slightly better than last year, thanks to a warm winter and good precipitation.

“We’re quite pleased with most of these preliminary results,” said Don Young, DU’s executive vice president. “The 14 percent increase in breeding numbers for the 10 most common species is consistent with what Ducks Unlimited’s field biologists have observed this spring.”

One of the most important elements in duck-breeding success is the amount of water present on the prairie breeding grounds. When the survey was conducted in May, total pond counts for the United States and Canada combined showed 6.1 million ponds, a 13 percent increase from last year’s estimate, and 26 percent higher than the long-term average (LTA).

“Overall, this season should be a little more productive than last year,” said Dr. Bruce Batt, DU’s chief biologist. “The stage was set last summer and fall when most areas had at least fair precipitation. That left ponds in better condition at freeze-up and also meant there was better-than-normal residual nesting cover on most upland habitats. The increased populations along with timely precipitation this spring and summer, should help assure good conditions for a strong nesting effort and good wetland conditions for brood rearing.”

2006 Breeding Ducks By Species (in millions)

Mallard populations showed a smaller than expected 8 percent increase in numbers, with an estimated 7.3 million mallards on the prairies this spring, compared to last year’s estimate of 6.8 million birds. They are 3 percent below the LTA.

“Mallard populations are still at healthy levels,” said Batt. “But as with all waterfowl, we need to be diligent about conserving their habitats.”

As part of its new Wetlands for Tomorrow campaign, Ducks Unlimited recently launched the mallard conservation initiative, designed to conserve the mallard duck’s most vital breeding, migration and wintering habitats in the prairies, and in other areas such as the Great Lakes region, the Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River watershed, the Columbia Basin and key areas of California.

Perhaps the best news coming out of the survey this year is that pintail numbers are up 32 percent.

“That population jump will be quite helpful as we continue to conserve and restore critical breeding habitat under our pintail conservation initiative, which is designed to sustain a more prolonged recovery of the species,” said Batt.

Pintails are still 18 percent below the long-term average, but this year’s increase will certainly help.

Survey results show that pintail numbers are up 32 percent this year.
“We knew that the pintails had a good production season in 2005 even though the spring count was relatively unchanged from the spring of 2004,” said Batt. “It was extremely wet across the southern prairies in general, and the core pintail breeding areas in Saskatchewan, in particular. Pintails made a strong breeding effort last summer, and we had numerous reports all winter about the large numbers of pintails that hunters were seeing. We expected they would stop on the prairie to breed if conditions were good – and it looks like that’s just what happened.”

Most other species increased this year as well. Blue-winged teal jumped 28 percent from last year, with an estimated 5.9 million birds (30 percent above their LTA). Green-winged teal also increased 20 percent with 2.6 million birds (39 percent above the LTA).

There were an estimated 2.8 million breeding gadwall on the prairies, which boosts their population by 30 percent since last year, bringing it to 67 percent above the LTA. Redheads also increased 55 percent since 2005 with 916,000 birds, 47 percent above the LTA. Canvasbacks increased 33 percent since last year, with an estimated 691,000 breeding birds on the prairies, a healthy 23 percent above their LTA. Northern shovelers also multiplied. With 3.7 million shovelers on the prairies, their numbers are 69 percent above the LTA.

“A couple of species didn’t do so well though,” said Batt. “Wigeon numbers were 17 percent below their long-term average with 2.2 million birds, and most disappointing were the scaup numbers.”

Scaup went down by 4 percent since last year, continuing a long-term pattern that has persisted for the last twenty years. They are now 37 percent below their LTA.

“We are especially concerned about the further decline of the scaup, which have reached an all-time low this year,” said Young. “DU and others are continuing with targeted research programs on scaup that we hope will soon give us a better understanding of what we can do to help the species recover.”

“Overall, the results this year are quite encouraging, and remind us that habitat is the core factor driving the health of duck populations and the size of the fall flight,” said Young. “Again, we are seeing that there is still enough habitat when it is wet to hold duck populations at numbers that promise to support a good fall flight. However, that habitat is under siege on many fronts and is being lost at alarming rates. It has never been more important to maintain our focus on restoring and protecting these habitats so they can continue their important work for future generations. We must not allow any more species to dip to the low levels that are demonstrated by scaup and pintails.”

Throughout May and June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service survey the main waterfowl breeding habitats in the mid-continent area across to Alaska. The data for the eastern survey zone are not yet available. These surveys serve as the scientific basis for many management programs across the continent including the setting of hunting regulations. This is the 51st consecutive year that the survey has been conducted.

With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest wetlands and waterfowl conservation organization. The United States alone has lost more than half of its original wetlands – nature’s most productive ecosystems – and continues to lose more than 80,000 wetland acres each year.

Contact: Laura Houseal
(901) 758-3764
lhouseal@ducks.org