2013 Late Winter Habitat Conditions in Canada

Provided by Ducks Unlimited Canada


In the BC/Boreal Region, BC has been relatively dry but snow accumulations have been favourable in the Western Boreal Forest, which should bode well for migrants. Breeding waterfowl should also find good spring conditions in the Prairie Region, most of which has experienced average to above-average winter precipitation, with the exception of Alberta’s southern Prairie. Winter conditions have been variable in Eastern Canada, where Great Lakes and St. Lawrence water levels have been low. Larger groups of American black ducks and mallards are being observed in Atlantic Canada as estuaries begin to open and fields become exposed.

British Columbia / Western Boreal Forest Region


February was warmer along the coast, where it has been drier than normal since January. The snowpack is at or just below average around Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, but well below average (by 50-85 percent)
farther to the north.

If the weather persists, coastal farmers may start their spring planting early. While water levels remain good at the moment, the low-to-average snowpack means summer flows will likely be low in some areas. However, spring habitat conditions are still projected to be good. Large flocks of wintering waterfowl — including snow geese, American wigeons, trumpeter swans, mallards, pintails and many others — can still be found around the Fraser RiverDelta and East Coast of Vancouver Island.

The past two months have been very dry through most of the Interior. While this leaves snow levels below average in the northern Interior, snowpacks are still close to average in the south and southeast. In the southern Interior, the weather has been relatively mild, with lots of recent melting.

In the Peace region, precipitation has been about normal when considered over the entire winter. However, most of the snow fell between October and December, and there has been very little snow since then. Furthermore, the January and February weather was mild and windy, leading to melting and sublimation of ground snow. In many areas, there is less than a foot of crusty snow heading into spring. The prognosis for spring runoff is fair at best.


Throughout the region, habitat conditions remain in good condition, and have changed very little since January. Snow accumulation remains at or above average in most places, which should bode well for waterfowl as they start to
arrive on their boreal breeding grounds in late April.

January and February temperatures were average, and snow accumulations have been variable. This is not of concern, however, since water levels were high going into winter. Wetland conditions should be in great shape for migrating and breeding waterfowl.

Northwest Territories
The unseasonably cold weather that hit in November continued in the interior part of the territory until recently. High temperatures have hovered around -30 C over the last two months, although the area around the Mackenzie River Delta experienced normal temperatures. Snow accumulations have been below average. Therefore, although wetland conditions are currently considered average to good, they could be below average when waterfowl return unless substantial snow or rain is received in the next couple of months.

Boreal British Columbia

Since January, northeastern areas have experienced above-normal temperatures and below-average snowfall amounts. More moisture is needed to alleviate the drier-than-average conditions that persisted in 2012.

Boreal Alberta

Temperatures have been near normal since January. After receiving an abundant snowfall in November and December, snow accumulation has also been near average. There is currently about 30 cm of snow on the ground throughout nortern Alberta. Habitat conditions remain good across region, and should remain that way headed into spring.

Boreal Saskatchewan

Habitats remain in good condition thanks to above-average snowfall this winter. In fact, thin ice is reported on many lakes and rivers due to the early heavy snowfall. Wetland habitat should be good to very good going into the spring breeding season.

Boreal Manitoba

January and February temperatures were near normal, and above-normal moisture (by 27 percent) has maintained good to very good habitat conditions. Pre-freeze-up moisture also resulted in a good frost seal, so current wetland conditions should be maintained into the spring.


After the widespread snowfall and cold temperatures of early winter, conditions have moderated, particularly in the south. Precipitation totals for the winter (1 November 2012 - present) have been average to above average north of the Trans Canada Highway, including in the northern Prairie, Aspen Parkland, Boreal Transition Zone (BTZ) and Peace Parkland. In the southern Prairie, winter precipitation is average to below average. Temperatures have been above normal since January.

The first weekend of March, areas south and east of Red Deer were affected by a storm that increased snow cover in the southern Aspen Parkland and the Prairie. Prior to the storm, there was 0-5 cm of snow cover in the southern Prairie from TransCanada Highway to the US border and from Calgary east to the Cypress Hills.

Chinook conditions removed the majority of the early-winter snow cover. Last week, there were actually grass fires in some areas. Now, there is 5-15 cm of snow cover; however, with temperatures forecast to be 10-15 C by the end of this week, the snow will not last long. The southern mountain snowpack is average, and the water supply outlook for the southern rivers, which support the southern irrigation districts, is average.

There is approximately 30-45 cm of snow on the ground in the central and eastern Aspen Parkland, as well as in the northern Prairie and BTZ. In the Peace Parkland, the south has 10-15 cm of snow and the north has 30-40 cm on the ground. Greater amounts of snow are encountered in all areas where snow has drifted into roadside ditches, wetlands and bush areas.

Models from Alberta Agriculture indicate average to below-average soil moisture levels across the province. Thisis indicative of a generally dry fall season after a wet summer. At this point, runoff prospects for the southern Prairie are poor, with the exception of the Cypress Hills area where runoff prospects are fair to good. The recent storm is not anticipated to significantly change spring runoff potential in the southern Prairie. Runoff will likely be fair to good in the northern Prairie, as well as in the southern and western Aspen Parkland. In some areas of the eastern Parkland and northeast Prairie, along the Saskatchewan border, runoff prospects are very good. Good to very good runoff is anticipated in the northern Aspen Parkland and BTZ.

With the exception of the southern Prairie, runoff prospects are average to above average in the agricultural zone of Alberta. While the recent storm is not anticipated to significantly change spring runoff potential in the southern Prairie, going forward spring snow storms in often dramatically improve runoff conditions in southern Alberta. Some paired Canada geese have been observed in the southern Prairie. Typically Canada geese start to move into the Aspen Parkland the first week of March.


Virtually all agricultural areas have received above-average winter snowfall — over 200 per cent of normal in some places. Most areas are reporting 1.5-2 ft of snow in stubble fields, as well as sizable snow drifts in fence lines, shelterbelts and wetlands due to windy conditions.

Southwestern areas received above-average temperatures, and much of the snow had melted until a recent storm dropped 10-20 cm across the region. Central and northern areas of the province are still very muchlocked in the grip of winter. The Saskatchewan Water Security Agency is predicting above-normal to well-abovenormal spring runoff for nearly all of southern and central Saskatchewan.

Although wetland conditions had dried significantly in some areas last fall, the above-average snowfall should more than make up for it, providing very good to excellent pond numbers for returning breeding waterfowl.


Given the current snowpack, wetland conditions are expected to improve this spring. At the time of this report, a major winter storm is adding to that snowpack across southwest areas.
The Killarney Pothole Region, as wellas the majority of the Virden Landscape, have received average to slightly-above average precipitation this winter. The Minnedosa/Shoal Lake Pothole Region has received above-average snowfall, with an increase in accumulations in the northwest corner of this range.

The northern reaches of the Virden Landscape are also reporting above-average accumulations. Temperatures haven’t varied far from normal, and forecasts indicate that spring won’t arrive early, which should bode well for a quicker late-March runoff to further benefit wetlands. A good snowpack persists throughout the southwest Parkland, and fields remain 100 per cent covered. One slight offset to the favorable snowpack stems from the the less-than- favourable fall soil moisture conditions. This could limit the duration of ephemeral and temporary basins, depending on climatic variables over the next month. A late, quick melt and additional spring precipitation will help secure good spring conditions. Seasonal and semi-permanent basins are experiencing a great snow catch, which will provide good habitat for arriving pairs.


The winter months have been highly variable in terms of precipitation and temperature. One week would bring a winter thaw; the next, a cold spell. Minimum daily temperatures were -45 C or lower in northern Ontario.

Meanwhile, southern Ontario had maximum temperatures above 15 C, and new record highs were set January 11-13, and again on January 29 and 30.

Winter precipitation can be summed up as below-average snowpack conditions coupled with above-average rainfall events. Large rainfall totals were observed across southwest and central areas. In fact, for a number of locations throughout south central Ontario, this was the second-wettest January on record. Snowfall amounts for locations in the typical snowbelts off Georgian Bay were well below average in January and below average in February.

Habitat conditions are rated as fair in south central and southwest areas due to poor frost seal and moderate snowpack conditions. Northern Ontario has variable snowpack conditions but wetland levels appear to be good.

Inland wetlands are still covered in ice and snow, while some Great Lakes coastal zones have a combination of shallow ice cover or open water.

Of greatest concern, water levels are very low throughout the Great Lakes. Levels on lakes Huron and Michigan are the lowest they’ve been since record keeping began in 1918. The lakes are about 1 meter below their long-term average, which is drying out emergent coastal wetlands and revealing extended mudflats. Lakes Superior, Erie and Ontario are not as low but are still well below average for this time of year. The chief cause of these water level declines is a combination of reduced precipitation throughout their watersheds, as well as increased evaporation due to higher ambient temperatures over the last two decades. The short-term result could be poor migratory habitat for waterfowl using the Great Lakes for resting and feeding during their migration northward.

Due to relatively poor ice development throughout the nearshore areas of the Great Lakes, more waterfowl than normal overwintered in the area.


Monthly mean temperatures were 1-4 C above normal in January, and the Eastern Townships and Abitibi region were particularly mild. In February, mean temperatures were 2 C below the norm, except in eastern areas, where temperatures were normal.

January precipitation was 20 percent below the norm. February followed the same pattern, with approximately 30-60 percent less precipitation than normal.

Mild temperatures have somewhat reduced the snowpack, with approximately 75 per cent less snow than average. Only in the Ottawa River Valley region is the snowpack close to normal.The mean St. Lawrence water level, as measured at Sorel station, has been 40 per cent lower than normal since September. With the February temeratures, the frost seal is good on the St. Lawrence channel. The outlook for spring runoff is fair, but this situation could change quickly. Habitat conditions are fair in all regions except in
the west, where they are good.


It has been a typical winter, with average snowfall reported in all provinces.Below-normal spring precipitation is predicted for Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and southern New Brunswick, while Newfoundland and Labrador will likely get normal to above-normal amounts. Temperatures have started to climb lately, with some above-freezing daytime amounts. Environment Canada is predicting above-average spring temperatures for all of Atlantic Canada, which could mean an early spring.

Reports of waterfowl are increasing as spring approaches. Larger groups of American black ducks and mallards are being observed as estuaries begin to open and fields become exposed. Flocks of Canada geese have been reported in the Maritimes throughout the winter.

The winter snowfall should provide typical spring melt-water volumes, yet spring precipitation is predicted to be variable across Atlantic Canada. Even with these potential variations, DUC’s impoundments will operate at spring water levels. Based on current conditions, habitat conditions are good throughout Atlantic Canada.

View this report as a PDF at http://www.ducks.ca/learn-about-wetlands/habitat-reports/