What effect is the unusual weather having on record-high numbers of migrating ducks and geese?
Waterfowl enthusiasts all over North America are awaiting the largest fall flight of ducks in 50 years, but biologists are warning that this year's unusually warm and dry weather in many areas could mean that many birds might alter their traditional migration behavior.
"Many ducks and geese won't move south until cold weather freezes their water sources," said Dr. Bruce Batt, chief biologist for Ducks Unlimited. This year's persistent, warm weather well into fall means that many birds are still much farther north than they would usually be this time of year."
"On top of that, much of the country is experiencing drought conditions," said Batt. "And that means these record numbers of migrating waterfowl will be flying south into some of the poorest habitat we've ever seen."
In many traditional waterfowl wintering and migration areas, wetland projects created and maintained by DU, private landowners, government agencies, and others are providing some ot the only habitat available to wetland-dependent species. To ensure that these artificially created wetlands will provide maximum benefits, DU staff heads into the field to enforce the various flooding agreements. "It's during conditions like this that we see how vitally important these kinds of conservation projects are," said Batt.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's annual fall flight index predicts that 105 million ducks will fly south this fall. That's more than at any time since the first index more than 50 years ago. Waterfowl experts credit several years of excellent spring and summer weather conditions on the birds' northern breeding grounds and conservation efforts by DU and many others.
That seems like great news for hunters, but weather and precipitation all along the birds' traditional flyways will play a large part in determining when, where, and how quickly waterfowl will migrate. In some areas of North America, that could mean poor hunting during parts or all of the season.
"It's unfortunate that we couldn't see these great duck numbers and ideal weather patterns in the same year," said Batt. "This is an important reminder of the critical role that both weather and habitat play in the health of our waterfowl populations. Of course, we can't do anything about the weather, but we can work hard to ensure that quality habitat is in place so the ducks can thrive when the water returns."
Pacific Flyway Report
In the Pacific Flyway, Ron Stromstad, director of DU's Western Regional Office in Sacramento, reports that unseasonably warm and calm weather has held many birds up north. "In Alberta there are still sizable numbers of birds from Brooks south, and in British Columbia we're hearing that there are still large numbers of birds, especially in the Boundary Bay area," said Stromstad.
"In Washington and Oregon, there are a good number of birds, but hunting has been spotty. The Skagit River Delta along Puget Sound currently is holding about 360,000 ducks, one of the highest counts on record."
"And here in the Central Valley, which contains some of the most important wintering habitat in the Pacific Flyway, we're dealing with the same kind of weather conditions as the Midwest and Southern areas of the country. But the birds are here in good numbers. There are currently 1.6 million birds holed up in the Klamath Basin, compared to only a million at this time last year. We're forecasted to finally receive a series of cold winter storms, which should change our situation quite quickly.
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