Duck Breeding Population Survey Hits Record High

Duck HuntingThe picture is of Wyatt’s first widgeon. Based on the following information put together by the South Carolina Waterfowl Association it looks like he’ll have a great chance of killing a few more this year. Now all we need is the weather to get’em here. This is condensed version of an email I got today from a friend. Be sure to forward it to all your quack addict friends. Duck season will be here before you know it.

The duck breeding population counts from the 2011 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey are in. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service reports a breeding duck population count of 45.6 million birds in the traditional prairie survey area of the United States and Canada. This is a record for the survey which began in 1955. The count is an 11% increase over last year and is 35% above the long term average (1955-2010).

Several notable breeding population increases include northern pintails at 4.4 million. This is the highest breeding pintail population count since 1980 and is near the long term average. The mallard breeding population was estimated at 9.2 million which is the highest count since 2000 and is 22% above the long term average. Several species hit record high breeding pair counts since the survey began in 1955. The blue-winged teal breeding population was a record 8.9 million, the redhead breeding population reached a record of 1.4 million and the northern shoveler breeding population hit a record of 4.6 million.

Waterfowl habitat conditions across the Canadian and Northern US breeding grounds were categorized as good to excellent by the USFWS. Water conditions in wetlands were average to above average across the breeding grounds. The pond counts (prairie potholes) in the traditional survey area were 8.1 million which is 22% above last year and 62% above the long term average. In the Eastern Canadian and Northeastern US survey area habitat conditions were also categorized as good to excellent and breeding population counts were similar to last year.

Abundant wetlands and abundant upland nesting cover are essential to produce a bumper crop of ducks for the fall flight. Both conditions are in place this year and should result in a large fall flight of ducks. Nest success will be improved across much of the prairie breeding grounds due to the delayed planting of crops and the lack of planting due to wet fields in many regions.

Areas like Southern Manitoba and Southern Saskatchewan should have significantly increased duck production this year due to abundant wetlands and millions of acres of cropland that were not cultivated or planted due to very wet field conditions. In Southern Manitoba alone over 4 million acres of cropland were not planted.

Many ducks are using these unplanted fields as upland nesting sites that are not available in a normal crop year. Upland nesting cover in the Dakotas and Eastern Montana is also excellent thanks to millions of acres of Conservation Reserve Program native grass areas.