Duck Numbers Remain Strong as Habitat Declines

FWS survey indicates record duck numbers, average pond count

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 1955-2010 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."

Of the 10 species traditionally reported, nine were similar to or increased in number from 2011. Two species (northern pintail and American wigeon) remained below their long-term average. Mallards, northern shovelersblue-winged teal and scaup were bright spots on this year's survey. For the first time since 1999, mallard populations have exceeded 10 million. Northern shovelers and bluewings again reached record highs (5.0 and 9.2 million, respectively). Scaup numbers showed improvement and are above 5 million for the first time since 1991. Scaup numbers showed improvement and are above 5 million for the first time since 1991, but still remain below the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) population goal. Only three species—northern pintailAmerican wigeon and scaup—remain below NAWMP goals.

This chart summarizes information about the status of duck populations and wetland habitats during spring 2012, focusing on areas encompassed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) and Canadian Wildlife Services' (CWS) Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey.


"This year I am reminded again of the dynamic nature of wetland cycles and what happens when several years of strong production line up with the possible beginnings of a drought cycle," Humburg said.

"As good as the population news is this week, waterfowl and wetland habitats continue to face significant long-term threats. The Farm Bill and North American Wetlands Conservation Act are up for renewal by Congress this year and both are crucial to our ability to conserve this critical habitat. We are also fighting to increase our investment in wetlands conservation by raising the price of the federal duck stamp," said DU CEO Dale Hall. "Conservation is indeed at a crossroads this year."

Read the full press release.

2012 Mallard Numbers

The mallard is the most common duck in the United States, with the greatest abundance between the Appalachian and Rocky mountains.

2012: 10.602 million +15% from 2011
2011: 9.183 million
% Change from long-term average: +40%

Learn more about mallards in our waterfowl identification gallery.


2012 Gadwall Numbers

The North American gadwall population remained stable through the 1970s and early 1980s, while populations of other waterfowl species generally declined. Since the late 1980s, the gadwall population has increased to record levels,

2012:  3.586 million +10% from 2011
2011: 3.257 million
% Change from long-term average: +96%

Learn more about gadwalls in our waterfowl identification gallery.


2012 American Wigeon Numbers

American wigeon nest farther north than any other dabbling duck with the exception of the northern pintail. They breed throughout northern Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, Alaska and the Northwest Territories.

2012: 2.145 million +3% from 2011
2011: 2.084 million
% Change from long-term average: -17 percent

Learn more about American wigeons in our waterfowl identification gallery.


2012 Green-winged Teal Numbers

From an all-time low of 722,000 birds in 1962, green-winged teal populations have grown steadily since.

2012: 3.471 million +20% from 2011
2011: 2.900 million
% Change from long-term average: +74%

Learn more about green-winged teal in our waterfowl identification gallery.


2012 Blue-winged Teal Numbers

Since 1955, blue-winged teal populations have ranged from 2.8 million to 8.9 million. Generally, numbers have increased in recent years, due to favorable prairie wetland conditions. This has resulted in an average population of 6 million during the past 10 years (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009).

2012: 9.242 million +3% from 2011
2011: 8.948 million
% Change from long-term average: +94%

Learn more about blue-winged teal in our waterfowl identification gallery.


2012 Northern Shoveler Numbers

Northern shoveler populations have remained fairly steady since 1955, but 2007, 2009 and 2011 brought peak numbers in the 4.3-4.6-million-bird range.

2012: 5.018 million +8% from 2011
2011: 4.641 million
% Change from long-term average: +111%

Learn more about northern shovelers in our waterfowl identification gallery.


2012 Northern Pintail Numbers

Pintails once were one of the most abundant ducks in North America but have suffered a disturbing decline since the 1950s.

2012: 3.473 million -22% from 2011
2011: 4.429 million
% Change from long-term average: -14% 

Learn more about northern pintails in our waterfowl identification gallery.


2012 Redhead Numbers

Redhead populations have remained relatively steady since 1955, hovering in the 400,000 to 800,000 range and improving over the last 10 years.

2012: 1.270 million -6%
2011: 1.356 million
% Change from long-term average: +89% 

Learn more about redheads in our waterfowl identification gallery.


2012 Canvasback Numbers

The canvasback population is continuing to rebound from the low levels experienced in the late 1980s and early '90s caused by loss of breeding/wintering habitat.

2012: 0.760 million +10% from 2011
2011: 0.692 million
% Change from long-term average: +33% 

Learn more about canvasbacks in our waterfowl identification gallery.



2012 Scaup Numbers

Greater and lesser scaup are counted together, because they are difficult to distinguish during aerial surveys. Greater scaup are estimated to constitute roughly 11 percent of the continental scaup population. Scaup populations have steadily declined since the 1980s.

2012: 5.239 million +21% from 2011
2011: 4.319 million
% Change from long-term average: +4% 

Learn more about greater scaup and lesser scaup in our waterfowl identification gallery.