Ep. 5 – 2019 Trends in Duck Breeding Populations Survey – Green-winged teal, Gadwall, American Wigeon

The crew discuss 2019 BPOP numbers for greenwings, gadwalls, and other species

© Michael Furtman

Clay Baird: Welcome to the Ducks Unlimited podcast, the only podcast about all things waterfowl. From hunting insights to science-based discussions about ducks, geese, and issues affecting waterfowl and wetlands conservation in North America. We bring the resource to you. The DU podcast with your host, Chris Jennings.

Chris Jennings: Today, I've got Dr. Tom Moorman, Ducks Unlimited's chief biologist, and Dr. Mike Brasher, Ducks Unlimited's waterfowl scientist here at national headquarters. We're still talking duck numbers. Duck numbers just recently came out. And we're going species by species here, so bear with us. Today we're talking about the Gadwall. Very significant species for North America. Third or fourth highest harvest on average throughout North America. And this year Gadwall came in at 3.2 million. That's almost the 10th highest on record, correct, Mike?

Mike Brasher: It is. It's the 10th highest number on record. And just to clarify: Gray Ducks.

Chris Jennings: Gray Ducks. Gray Ducks.

Mike Brasher: For our South Louisiana comrades.

Chris Jennings: There you go. Perfect. Tom, do you want to make the Gadwall sound real quick for everyone?

Tom Moorman: I'll pass right now, thank you very much.

Chris Jennings: Sorry. He's been making Gadwall noises.

Mike Brasher: Yeah. Gadwall duck. Very important for hunters across the US. Widely distributed, third or fourth most harvested bird on average. And it really is impressive when you look at Gadwall through the years. We've spoken about some of the other species in other podcasts, and how the pond conditions in the Southern Prairie Provinces were really going into two years of drought and last year things were dry in the Dakotas, yet this bird, this species just continues to produce and just continues to impress. Presently its population is 61% over the longterm average. I mean if there's a bright spot in the breeding population survey, the report this year, clearly it's going to be Gadwall.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. And that really... I mean, I think when people looked at the chart that we sent out, I think that really jumped off people. I saw people commenting about, you know, "Hooray, Gadwall." You know, people were just excited to see that Gray Duck, sorry, numbers were strong.

Tom Moorman: You know the other good thing about this year for Gadwalls is they're pretty prone to dropping out on some of the first water they encounter. And so we know that Southern Prairie Canada is mostly dry, and Gadwalls that settle there probably will have less success. The good news is Eastern Dakotas and Western Montana pulled in a lot of Gadwalls.

Mike Brasher: Yeah, 1.3 million.

Tom Moorman: They'll settle in there, and they should have a really good year because there's quite a bit of water. And that usually translates to some pretty good duck production for that bird.

Chris Jennings: Awesome. Well, let's roll out... We'll roll right down the list. American Wigeon. Very unique species. Came in this year on the the survey at 2.8 million. 0% change from 2018, but it looks like Widgeon numbers are still strong.8% over the longterm average.

Tom Moorman: The the thing that hunters should know about Widgeon is, is this is a bird that breeds predominantly in the boreal forests. Little less in the prairies. Actually, a lot less in the prairies. Boreal forest to Canada and up into Alaska. And so if we look at boreal wetlands, traditionally they're a little bit more stable, a little bit more permanent. And so conditions there tend to be a little bit less variable. However, this year there is a little bit of a dry spot up there. What that ultimately means for Widgeon production is a little unclear. It's actually not that well studied of a bird overall. But, the population is I guess right at its longterm average and this year, no change from last year. So they should be okay.

Mike Brasher: Yeah. And I was kind of happy to see Widgeons sort of maintaining themselves. They were a species a few years ago where it kind of looked like they were... Might've been following the trajectory of Scaup. And thinking about they're both boreal nesters predominantly and you thought maybe something was going on there. But Widgeons seem to have kind of leveled off here. And so it's an important bird for the Pacific Flyway folks, and yeah. So, not too bad of a picture for Widgeon this year.

Clay Baird: [ADVERTISEMENT] Be the first to know when ducks are on the move. Sign up for DU's waterfowl migration email alerts and receive ongoing in-depth updates on the latest habitat conditions, weather changes, and hunting reports for your flyway. Visit ducks.org/migrationalerts.

Chris Jennings: Next species, Green-winged Teal. A lot of hunters' favorite bird, fantastic table fare as well. 2019, 3.1 million birds counted, which was 4% above the 2018 and 47% above the longterm average. Also one of the, the second highest, really, on longterm average there. That number gets people excited just to see that Greenwings are doing well?

Tom Moorman: Yeah, another bird on a great population trajectory over time. Also another the bird that breeds typically a little bit north of the prairies. They're what we would call Prairie Parkland/boreal nester. Water conditions in that part of the world were a little better, at least in parts of the boreal and parts of the Prairie Parkland country. Also big breeder in Alaska, and so taken together Alaska was pretty dry this year. But the rest of that country was okay. And so population should at least hold its own.

Mike Brasher: Yeah. And the Greenwing is really an interesting species. It's the smallest dabbling duck that we have, the smallest duck we have in North America. And yet it has this really northern distribution, breeding distribution. And that's probably something that a lot of folks don't truly appreciate. When you look at the breakdown and their numbers by survey region here, you have the boreal forest of Northern Alberta and British Columbia and on up in the Northwest Territories plus Alaska accounting for over two thirds of this population of this species.

Chris Jennings: Wow.

Tom Moorman: Other interesting thing about that bird is it tends to be a pretty late migrant for such a little guy. And at least in our part of the world, Chris, where we hunt down here in Mississippi or Louisiana, Arkansas, Greenwings show up in force usually in January.

Chris Jennings: Yeah.

Tom Moorman: It's an interesting bird. And you know, sometimes probably be good for future discussion maybe to contrast Greenwings and Bluewings a little bit because they're really different.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, absolutely.

Mike Brasher: These species, the species that nest in the boreal forest are a little more challenge to try to get a handle on productivity just because some of those survey areas are so large and breeding conditions can be so variable. And reading the report, that's one of the takeaways that I got from those survey regions. It's very variable across that area.

Chris Jennings: I think listeners need to kind of get a better grasp of the habitat there in the boreal. I mean, what's that like? I mean it's bogs, it's sloughs, and it's very different from the prairies and very probably really difficult to even survey.

Tom Moorman: Well, the survey transects, they're spread out further because it's such a big space, and the relative density of waterfowl is a lot lower. But the size of the place alone and number of wetlands it carries, typically we'll see 30% of the waterfowl production in North America coming out of there. The beauty of it is, is that it's pretty consistently wet. And so even if a prairie drought hits, the boreal can be counted on to kick out some ducks.

Chris Jennings: Yeah.

Mike Brasher: Yeah. And so we've just talked about two species that are predominantly in that boreal forest region. So I'm just thinking about next year, maybe we can have a podcast on location in the boreal forest.

Tom Moorman: That's what I'm talking about.

Mike Brasher: Just something to think about.

Chris Jennings: That's what I'm... Yeah, that sounds great. Well, hey guys. I appreciate you joining us and going through these species. We're going to go through the next few, so everyone just join us on the next podcast. We'll start out with Bluewings and go all the way down the list. Thanks guys.

Clay Baird: Thank you for listening to this episode of the DU podcast. Be sure to rate, review, and subscribe to the show and visit www.ducks.org/DUpodcast for resources based on today's topics as well as access to more episodes. Until next time, stay tuned to the ducks.