Delta News

Breeding Duck Numbers, Pond Count Down in North Dakota Spring Survey

Breeding Duck Numbers, Pond Count Down in North Dakota Spring Survey

Spring breeding duck numbers in North Dakota are down from last year, according to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Results of the state’s annual spring breeding survey conducted in May showed an index of 3.46 million ducks, a decline of 5.3 percent from 2015. With the exception of a 4 percent increase in gadwalls and 19 percent more ruddy ducks, all species showed declines. Blue-winged teal were down 2 percent, while mallards declined 9 percent, pintails 17 percent and canvasbacks 18 percent. However, overall duck numbers are still 45 percent above the long-term average of the survey, which began in 1948.

The water index is of greater concern. The wetland index was down 50 percent from last year, and falls nearly 40 percent below the long-term average. Mike Szymanski, migratory game bird supervisor for the N.D. Game and Fish Dept., said the number of temporary and seasonal wetlands — which are critical for duck nesting — was substantially lower this year.

“Conditions coming out of May into June were much better than what we observed during the week of the survey (May 9 to 15),” he said. “Frequent rains have since filled many wetlands that are beneficial for breeding ducks.”

North Dakota is a key duck production state, particularly for nesting blue-winged teal, mallards, gadwalls, pintails, shovelers, bluebills and redheads.

Dr. Frank Rohwer, president and chief scientist of Delta Waterfowl, said the North Dakota survey showing high duck numbers and poor wetland conditions is an unusual result.

“Duck numbers in North Dakota are surprisingly good, which shows strong carryover from several years of good duck production,” he said.

The recent rains might have arrived too late to boost duck recruitment, Rohwer said.

“We don’t expect production to be very good because we had so few ponds in May,” he said. “The temporary and seasonal wetlands were dry this spring when the ducks returned.”

Pintails, which are very responsive to seasonal wetlands, likely overflew North Dakota this spring looking for better nesting conditions, Rohwer explained. Still, mallards, gadwalls, blue-winged teal, bluebills and redheads remain well above the long-term average in North Dakota.

“Overall, this is a better-than-expected report on duck numbers in North Dakota, which remain surprisingly strong.”