Mallards Continue to Adapt and Thrive
Kyle Wintersteen, Managing Editor on 07/22/2015
The mallard estimate of 11.64 million in the 2015 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey marks a 7 percent gain over 2014, and puts the species 51 percent above the long-term average. Even in the eastern survey area, where production is generally not as high, the mallard population is 2 percent above the long-term average.
Given the mallard’s recent population gains, one might wonder why certain other species have languished or failed to respond as strongly to consecutive years of excellent nesting conditions.
“Mallards have capitalized on the prairie’s great water conditions more than any other prairie nesting species,” explained Dr. Frank Rohwer, president of Delta Waterfowl. “They nest early, renest more vigorously than other ducks, and especially last year, they had great conditions to do so.”
Mallards are essentially the whitetail deer of the waterfowl kingdom: They adapt to numerous habitats, they’re widespread, and they’re driven to reproduce. Spanning across North America and indeed much of the northern hemisphere, mallards are the world’s most prolific duck.
“The mallard’s broad geographic distribution also led to great production last year, because there was good water almost everywhere,” Rohwer said. “Certainly this year’s record-high estimate is a result of last year’s ideal conditions.”
Why then, have species such as bluebills and pintails taken poor advantage of the wet prairie landscape?
“They’re basically the opposite of mallards in terms of their breeding habits,” Rohwer said. “Neither renest strongly, and scaup virtually never do because they nest so late. Mallards respond far more efficiently to production opportunities.”