Duck habitat conditions inprove greatly
Posted: Friday, July 10, 2009 8:59 am
MEMPHIS — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its preliminary report on mid-continent breeding ducks and habitats, based on surveys conducted in May and early June. Total duck populations were estimated at 42 million breeding ducks on the surveyed area. This estimate represents a 13 percent increase over last year’s estimate of 37.3 million birds and is 25 percent above the 1955-2008 long-term average.
“The increase in duck numbers in relation to the increase in habitat conditions is consistent with what we would expect to see in U.S. and Canadian breeding grounds this spring,” said Ducks Unlimited’s executive vice president Don Young. “History has repeatedly shown that when water returns to the breeding grounds ducks respond with a strong breeding effort.”
In addition to extensive grassland cover, one of the most important elements in duck breeding success is the amount of water present in portions of prairie and parkland Canada and north-central United States. Total pond counts for the United States and Canada combined showed 6.4 million ponds, a 45 percent increase from last year’s estimate, and 31 percent above the long-term average. Habitat conditions in 2009 were mostly a good news scenario. Conditions across the southern portions of the Canadian and U.S prairies improved considerably from 2008. However, drought remained in some parts of the traditional survey area, including western portions of the Prairie Pothole Region. Southern Alberta saw a decrease in ponds of 19 percent. This area contrasted sharply with record amounts of snow and rainfall in the Dakotas. The north-central U.S., which includes the Dakotas, saw a 108 percent increase in total ponds. Above average snowfall this winter and considerable precipitation in late spring recharged wetlands across the Dakotas and eastern Montana.
The Canadian parklands re-ceived below-normal precipitation, but waterfowl habitat in this area continued to benefit from above-normal precipitation received in 2007. In the Boreal Forest, spring break-up was delayed as much as three weeks and most large lakes across the region remained frozen in early June. Overall habitat conditions in this important region were considered good.
The FWS spring surveys provide the scientific basis for many management programs across the continent including the setting of hunting regulations. The four flyway councils will meet in late July to recommend and adopt the season structure and bag limits for 2009-10. Individual states will make their specific selections within a federal framework of season length, bag limit and outside dates. Hunters should check their state’s rules for final dates.
The 2009 report is filled with positive news for all duck species. As might be expected, most breeding populations increased as habitat conditions significantly improved from 2008 to 2009. Of the commonly surveyed species four of the 10 showed a significant increase, and six of 10 were significantly above their long-term averages.
The mallard population in-creased 10 percent above last year. An estimated 8.5 million mallards were on traditionally surveyed areas this spring, compared to last year’s estimate of 7.7 million birds and are now 13 percent above the long-term average.
“The increase in breeding mallard populations to numbers above their long-term average could very well be good news for hunters,” said DU’s chief biologist Dale Humburg. “Although we also know that migration timing and local conditions will also be important in this fall’s hunting prospects.”
Other notable increases from 2008 include canvasbacks (+35 percent), northern shovelers (+25 percent) and northern pintails (+23 percent). Pintail numbers increased for the first time since 2006, but remain 20 percent below the long-term average.
Scaup numbers were above four million for the first time since 2000. Breeding scaup numbers, however, remain 18 percent below their long-term average and continue to be a species of concern.
Other species above the long-term averages were gadwall, green-winged teal, blue-winged teal, northern shoveler and redheads.
Since 1990, surveys have been conducted in eastern North America. Good habitat was found across the eastern survey area. Population estimates for the 10 most abundant species surveyed were similar to last year and to the 1990-2008 averages.
For details of the Trends in Duck Breeding Populations, 1955-2009 report visit the FWS Migratory Bird website at: http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/
Wet and dry cycles, where water levels fluctuate over time, are vital components of maintaining wetland productivity. This is true for all wetlands, but is especially important for the prairie potholes of the northern plains. While hunters and ducks rejoice with the return of water, droughts are important in rejuvenating wetlands. As evident by this year, dedication to conservation, even through dry cycles, can pay off when water returns to the prairies and wetlands again teem with breeding waterfowl and other wildlife.