2013 Spring Habitat Conditions in Canada

Above-average habitat conditions throughout most of Canada

Compiled by Ducks Unlimited Canada

Summary

Spring arrived one to two weeks late in most of Canada, which delayed some migrants. In British Columbia, most wintering ducks have now departed and have been replaced by breeders such as cinnamon and blue-winged teal. Although late to arrive in the Western Boreal Forest, early breeders are taking advantage of good conditions. Conditions are even better in Prairie Region, where the breeding season is in full swing and farmers are behind schedule. In Eastern Canada, record flood events have taken place in Ontario, migration is almost finished in Québec and peak hatch should occur soon in Atlantic Canada.

BRITISH COLUMBIA

Throughout the province, the extended winter meant spring got off to a slow start. However, a recent spell of warm weather has compensated some what for a delayed breeding season. Along the coast, the mountain snow packs are rapidly melting, feeding lots of water into local streams and ponds. While snowpacks on the north and central coast were a bit low this past winter (~80 percent of average), they were near the long-term average on the south coast and island. This promises a steady supply of water through the spring and summer, and breeding conditions look to be good for the year. Local farmers have been busy preparing their fields and planting along the coast, and
the first crops are starting to grow fast.

Most of the wintering ducks such as northern pintail, northern shoveler and American wigeon have departed, with only a few stragglers remaining. They have been replaced by breeders such as cinnamon and blue-winged teal. Year-round residents such as mallard and wood duck are incubating, and the first Canada goose goslings have hatched. Precipitation was variable in the northern and southern Interior, and habitat conditions reflect this. Overall, these regions are still relatively dry, and many isolated basins (lacking stream connections) did not fill.

All expected breeders are present and accounted for, and Canada goose broods have been out for a couple of weeks in the south. Late-winter precipitation was good in the Peace region, and early conditions have recovered from a relatively dry 2012.

Spring runoff and observations of breeding effort suggest that brood production will be good.

WESTERN BOREAL FOREST

Boreal Yukon

Like elsewhere in the western boreal region, it's been a very long winter, and spring weather is just starting to reach parts of the territory.  For the last 30 days, temperatures have been below normal. As a result, the snowpack is above normal for this time of year. There are, however, some early breeders like mallards and goldeneyes taking advantage of what open water they can find along the wetland margins. Migration and breeding will be in full swing soon.

Given the good habitat conditions that will greet the birds, it should be another average to above - average year.

Northwest Territories

It has been one of the latest springs in recent memory. As a result, the return of migrating waterfowl has been delayed. However, geese, cranes, mallards and canvasbacks have been observed in the Yellowknife area. The larger lakes are still frozen, but smaller wetlands are opening quickly thanks to a recent warm spell, and waterfowl are taking advantage of them. Habitat conditions are generally good.

Boreal British Columbia

Spring appears to be more advanced compared to other areas of the western boreal forest. Recent warmer
weather has helped advance the breeding season. Canada geese and some early-nesting ducks like mallards are now nesting. Habitat conditions should be average.

Boreal Alberta

After experiencing one of the coldest Aprils on record, May has been rather warm.  Despite the heavy snowfall over the winter, sublimation and lack of spring rain have resulted in lower-than-expected habitat conditions.

The province is under extreme fire danger due to the recent above-average temperatures and high winds. Despite the recent weather, wetlands remain in good condition but will rapidly deteriorate if moisture is not received soon. Early reports indicate that all waterfowl species have returned and many are either currently laying eggs or in the early stages of incubation.

Boreal Saskatchewan

Spring arrived late, and heavy snow received this winter slowly disappeared over the month of May.

Breeding waterfowl also arrived late but the breeding season is in full swing. Wetlands are open and are in good to very good condition.

Boreal Manitoba

Despite above-average snow fall this winter, current water levels are lower than expected, which is probably due to a long, cool spring. However, wetlands still remain in very good condition for breeding waterfowl. All species have returned to their boreal breeding areas, and early nesters are either in the laying or early incubation stages.

ALBERTA

Spring arrived slowly, with cool temperatures and periods of snow into mid-April. Monthly average temperatures were 2-5 C below average for March and April. Overall, spring has been progressing about two weeks behind normal.

With the exception of the southern Prairie, snow melt was slow, with pockets of  snow lingering into late April. This spring has also been windy. In late April and early May, temperatures warmed into the mid 20s C, and combined with strong winds increased evaporative losses. In spite of the good snow cover in late winter and early spring, the protracted melt did not result in the runoff  anticipated in many areas. The majority of the southern Prairie was snow free by early March. Moisture from March and April snow storms largely evaporated or soaked into the ground.

Habitat conditions are generally fair, with some pockets rated as poor or good. In the northern Prairie, conditions are generally good to very good, which is not as favorable as expected, particularly in the west.

Most wetland projects are full. Precipitation totals since April 1 have been less than 50 percent of normal to near normal in the Prairie.

SASKATCHEWAN

Spring runoff was one of the latest ever across the majority of  the province. Snow and ice dominated the landscape into late April, and subsequently delayed waterfowl migration by 10-14 days. Average April temperatures were some of the coldest on record.

The above-average snowpack and sudden increase in temperatures in early May then provided the perfect conditions for an extraordinary runoff  in most areas.

Western and central areas experienced flooding conditions, with numerous towns and municipalities declaring states of emergency with homes, farms, roads and highways under water. There are, however, a few areas of  southern Saskatchewan that went into winter with dry soil conditions and no frost seal, which allowed a lot of the runoff to be soaked up, leaving temporary and seasonal wetlands low or even dry.

However, in most of the province, all classes of wetlands are full or spilling beyond their basins. With that, breeding ducks are returning to some of the best habitat conditions in decades. Nesting has now begun (one to two weeks late), with mallard and pintail nests being discovered and numerous lone drakes being observed.

Arctic geese are still staging across their traditional areas, taking advantage of flooded fields. Canada geese are incubating nests.  Farmers are also behind schedule, with seeding just getting going in many areas, which is one to two weeks later than normal.

MANITOBA

Spring arrived very late on the Canadian prairies, which significantly delayed the arrival of all waterfowl. The slow melt, coupled with the dry soil conditions from last year, hastened any major flooding events but the good snowpack resulted in favorable wetland conditions for arriving birds.

Once arrived, the birds quickly settled and transitioned to territorial behavior, and nesting quickly followed. Although significantly delayed, mallards quickly showed signs of nesting by May 2. The observation of small bachelor groups soon followed, indicating a widespread initiation. Late-nesting birds such as blue-winged teal initiated nests around the third week in May.

Resident Canada goose nesting was also significantly delayed, and their hatch is expected to be approximately two weeks later than usual. Wetland conditions are favorable throughout the southwest breeding range, but areas lacking spring precipitation are feeling the effects of those dry soil conditions.

Most ephemeral and seasonal wetland basins are now dry. Temporary and semi-permanent basins are full, and wetlands located in larger watersheds are flooded just beyond the cattails. Additional rainfall will be required to maintain these conditions for renesting and brood-rearing birds.

Upland conditions are changing rapidly with the recent above-seasonal-warm trend. Grasslands are quickly responding to this change, which will result in good cover for later-nesting birds. If haying is not delayed, this could have an impact on nesting birds affected by the late spring.

Crop seeding has also been delayed but the favorable late-May conditions have allowed producers to get a quick jump on seeding.

ONTARIO
 
This spring (especially April) has been colder and wetter than normal. In fact, record flooding events occurred throughout the far north, as well as in south central Ontario. Significant snowfall amounts also fell throughout the north including the Hudson's and James Bay lowlands. Due to relatively cool temperatures and significant precipitation events, most inland wetlands are near their maximum water-holding capacities, providing good overall spring breeding conditions for waterfowl.

Last year, Great Lakes water levels were at record lows, which was cause for significant concern. Currently, lakes Huron, Michigan and Superior are still significantly lower than normal (by 1 foot on average) while lakes Erie and Ontario have rebounded to near-normal water levels. Migration of Canada geese and duck species has been typical, and local breeding populations of Canada geese have produced a strong number of goslings. With relatively good breeding and brood-rearing habitats across most of the province, waterfowl production will be strong.

QUÉBEC

The spring season arrived at the beginning of May, with exceptional temperatures of over 25 C over five consecutive days. In general, average temperatures have been about 1 C higher than normal. Total precipitation levels continue to be slightly lower than normal for all regions, especially in the west, which received approximately 50 percent less precipitation than usual.

Generally, the province hasn't experienced a very high rise of the St. Lawrence River this year. However, habitats remain plentiful and in good shape, despite the limited precipitation and snow accumulations during the winter.

The average St. Lawrence water level at Sorel station was lower than normal (by 20 cm) earlier in May, but has been rising. The spring migration is almost finished, and has been normal with lots of greater snow geese and Canada geese.

Pairs of Canada geese, mallards and American black ducks are establishing breeding territories on available wetlands on the St. Peter Lake region. All the usual duck species have been observed including northern pintails, northern shovelers, canvasbacks, blue-winged and green-winged teal. In Saguenay region, a large number of nest boxes are occupied by common goldeneyes.

Overall, habitat conditions look better than expected, especially in the north and west. The outlook for brood production should be good.

ATLANTIC CANADA

Overall, it has been a relatively dry spring, with the only exception being Newfoundland where precipitation has been variable throughout the province. Forest fire indexes climbed in early May, resulting in many fires, including a large forest fire in southern New Brunswick.

The forest fire indexes have since dropped and risks remain low. Lately, temperatures are fluctuating from the low 20s C to below zero on recent nights. Environment Canada is predicting normal temperatures and normal precipitation for all of Atlantic Canada (June-August), so it should be an average summer.

The breeding season is in full swing, and all dabbler species are pairing up or have already paired. Earlier nesters, such as Canada geese and American black ducks, are beginning to emerge with young broods. Peak hatch is expected to occur in late May or early June.  Although water levels in brooks and rivers are lower than average, wetlands are operating at normal levels. Based on long-term weather forecasts, water levels should remain average throughout the summer.

Currently, habitat conditions are good throughout Atlantic Canada.

Get the full PDF version from Ducks Unlimited Canada.