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Breeding Duck Population Down Slightly, Drier Conditions Prevail in Key Nesting Areas

Breeding Duck Population Down Slightly, Drier Conditions Prevail in Key Nesting Areas

Annual breeding population survey estimates 48.36 million total ducks, with mallards at record high of 11.79 million

BISMARCK, NORTH DAKOTA — North America’s spring duck population remains high, but returning birds initially found a lower pond count in key areas of the breeding grounds, according to the 2016 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey released today.

The annual survey, which has been conducted jointly by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service since 1955, puts the breeding duck population at 48.36 million, slightly lower than last year’s record population of 49.52 million, but still 38 percent above the long-term average.

“The duck numbers are amazingly good,” said Dr. Frank Rohwer, president of Delta Waterfowl. “Mallard numbers are especially surprising, and show why they are the most abundant duck in the world. They adapt to conditions exceptionally well.”

The 2016 survey marks the highest estimates ever recorded for mallards and green-winged teal. Mallards increased 1 percent to 11.79 million, 51 percent above the long-term average. Green-winged teal populations grew by 5 percent to 4.28 million, which is more than twice the long-term average.

The news was not as good for pintails, which dropped for a fifth-straight year. Pintail numbers declined by 14 percent to 2.62 million, which puts the species 34 percent below the long-term average. Blue-winged teal numbers fell 22 percent to 6.69 million, but remain 34 percent above the long-term average.

“It’s really clear that pintails overflew the prairies,” said Rohwer, citing a 60 percent decline in breeding numbers in southern Saskatchewan. “Pintails and bluewings didn’t find the seasonal and temporary wetlands they prefer for breeding, so much of the population did not settle in the prairies. When pintails overfly the prairies, production is always down.”

The May pond count registered 5.01 million — 21 percent lower than last year, dipping 4 percent below the long-term average. Pond counts dropped 30 percent in the North-Central United States, which covers the Dakotas and Eastern Montana. Pond counts fell 16 percent in Prairie Canada. It’s the first time since 2007 that May pond counts fell below the long-term average.

“Wetland conditions are not very good compared to recent years,” Rohwer said. “I think duck production will be down. We have high numbers of ducks sharing fewer ponds. Ducks just don’t do as well when they’re crowded.”

Late spring rains in the Dakotas and across Prairie Canada could help later-nesting species such as gadwalls.

“Gadwalls will likely take advantage of the improved water conditions we had late May and June, and mallard production should be helped by it, too,” Rohwer said. “Mallards are strong renesters.”

Wigeon continued a strong trend, increasing 12 percent to 3.41 million. Wigeon numbers are now 31 percent above the long-term average. Shovelers declined by 10 percent, but still check in at 3.97 million, a strong 56 percent above the long-term average.

Among diving ducks, scaup increased 14 percent to 4.99 million, which places them right at the long-term average. Canvasbacks declined by 3 percent to 736,000, but remain 26 percent above the long-term average. Redheads, which have remained near record breeding numbers for the past five years, jumped 8 percent to 1.29 million.

Lower pond counts and drier conditions will likely result in average duck production, which means fewer juvenile ducks in the fall flight. Young ducks are generally easier to decoy and make up a significant portion of the hunter harvest.

“We’ll be hunting flocks with more adult ducks in them this season, but the flights should be strong,” Rohwer said.

For more information, contact John Devney, vice president of U.S. policy (701) 471-4235, jdevney@deltawaterfowl.org, or Dr. Frank Rohwer, president and chief scientist (888) 987-3695 ext. 217, frohwer@deltawaterfowl.org.

Delta Waterfowl Foundation is The Duck Hunters Organization, a leading conservation group working to produce ducks and ensure the tradition of duck hunting in North America.