The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released its annual report on breeding duck numbers and the results look promising. The Service estimated 41.8 million ducks in the survey area this year. That is only slightly lower (4%) than last year's record high estimate of 43.4 million ducks, and 27% above the long-term average.
Based on this information, waterfowl hunters, wildlife watchers, and conservationists across North America should expect to see plenty of ducks flying south this fall. Officials at Ducks Unlimited say they don't anticipate any changes in bag limits or season durations and look forward to another impressive fall flight.
Dr. Bruce Batt, chief biologist at Ducks Unlimited, is neither surprised nor concerned by the slight drop in breeding duck numbers. In fact, the results are better than he expected considering how dry conditions were this spring.
Batt explains, "There are no major surprises in the report, although I think many who tracked the weather this spring would have expected the overall population count to be more reduced than the final estimate."
Pond counts in the prairies of the U.S. and Canada were down 41% from last year and 20% below the 30-year average. Batt says, "This would normally have resulted in a much more reduced breeding population estimate. Neverthless, it looks like we can be pretty confident that most species are doing quite well." Batt credits the high numbers to increased rainfall in the late spring.
The USFWS data indicates that most individual duck species only decreased by a small percentage from last year's records. Mallards exhibited the largest drop from 1999, registering 12% below last year's count. However, the 1999 mallard population was an exceptionally high 10.8 million birds the second highest number since 1955.
2000 Breeding Ducks by Species (in thousands)
Green-winged teal and blue-winged teal are at record highs this year. Green-winged teal increased 21% in 2000 and 35% in 1999, totaling an impressive 56% increase in the last two years. Blue-winged teal increased 4% from last year, breaking the 1999 record of 7.1 million birds with 7.4 million this year.
Ducks Unlimited remains very concerned about the continued decline in the numbers of pintail and scaup. They are the only two duck species below the goals set by the North American Waterfowl Management Program (NAWMP).
This year, pintails were 33% below the long-term average. "Pintails were once the second most abundant ducks, after mallards," says Batt. "In the 1950s, they peaked at 10.3 million birds, versus 10.4 million mallards. They've especially declined since about 1980, the last time they were near the population goal."
Scaup numbers are 9% lower than last year, and 25% lower than the long-term average. In 1972, scaup populations peaked at nearly 8 million birds. Today there are 4 million scaup on record following a steady decline since about 1985.
The North American Waterfowl Management Plan is a blueprint for restoring North America's duck, goose, and swan populations. The focus of NAWMP is to support waterfowl populations at levels similar to those seen in the 1970s. According to the USFWS data, eight of the ten surveyed species are at or above NAWMP goals. Hundreds of private organizations and government agencies, including Ducks Unlimited, are partners in this effort.
Courtesy of Ducks Unlimited
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