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The North Dakota Game & Fish Department (NDGF) recently completed its annual spring breeding duck survey, and numbers are up 1.5% compared to 2022, making the 2023 breeding duck population the 23rd highest on record, and 39% above the agency's long-term average.
"As with all May waterfowl surveys, we are counting what remains of last year's fall flight. After a modest production year last year, duck numbers were flat relative to responses that are more typical with abundant water on the landscape," NDGF migratory game bird supervisor Mike Szymanski said. "Moreover, a large decrease in the number of ducks observed in areas with good wetland conditions is emblematic of a broader population that has declined overall. Such observations may be more typical as prospects for large fall flights decline from those of the 1994 to 2016 time period."
While the NDGF reported the overall number of wetlands is down by 26% year-over-year, it's still 76% above the 74-year average—a testament to the lasting impact of efforts to conserve and protect wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region, and some help from Mother Nature. However, there’s more that can be done to improve nesting habitat and support the recovery of populations to previous all-time highs.
"This is the seventh wettest spring in terms of wet basins on record, following our second wettest survey last year," Szymanski said. "The prairie wetland ecosystem is highly dynamic, which is evidenced by the last few years bouncing between wet and dry conditions. Whether wet or not, waterfowl resources continue to decline in the state due to diminished reproductive potential, limited by secure nesting cover."
Every spring since 1948, NDGF waterfowl biologists have conducted surveys across North Dakota, covering hundreds of miles to observe both wetlands and ducks, and the results are the first peek at habitat conditions and breeding populations before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalizes its survey results late in the summer.
"Thanks to an abundance of snow through the winter months, timely spring rains, and decades of partnership-driven conservation efforts, habitat conditions in North Dakota were better than average for breeding ducks this May," said Dr. Johann Walker, DU's Director of Operations for the Great Plains Region. "Wetland and grassland conservation is the proven way to ensure duck populations can thrive when nature cooperates, but wetlands and grasslands continue to be lost. As we have for the past 86 years, DU will continue to join with conservation partners, farmers and ranchers, philanthropists, and volunteers to save wetlands and grasslands in the prairies and secure a bright future for North America’s ducks.”
You can read more about the survey on the NDGF website, or watch Mike Szymanski's update on DU’s Great Plains Regional Facebook page.
For more information, visit, and be sure to follow DU's Twitter feed – @DucksUnlimited and @DUConserve – to get the most up-to-date news from Ducks Unlimited.
About Ducks Unlimited
Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 16 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit


Media Contact:
Ben Romans