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BPOP: Duck Numbers, Habitat Conditions Improve

BPOP: Duck Numbers, Habitat Conditions Improve

BISMARCK, N.D.—The water is back and the ducks are back. So says the preliminary 2006 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, released this week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Highlights of the report include:

The May pond count across the traditional survey area was the eighth highest in the 46 years biologists have been tracking ponds.

The total number of breeding ducks stands at 36.2 million, a 14 percent jump from last year and 9 percent higher than the long-term (1955-2006) average.

Breeding populations of redheads, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, gadwalls, canvasbacks and northern shovelers are among the highest they’ve been in the 52-year history of the survey.

Even the beleaguered pintail took a 32-percent jump from 2005.

“There’s plenty of good news in the B-pop,” says Delta Waterfowl President Rob Olson of the survey, which is conducted jointly by FWS and the Canadian Wildlife Service. “Obviously, we have to be thrilled about the improved habitat conditions and the higher total population,” says Olson.

“Mother Nature has set the table for ducks. With the exception of 1996 and 1997, prairie Canada is the wettest it’s been since the ‘70s, and this is the second year Canada has been wet. If you put enough water on the landscape, ducks should respond.”

The figures support Olson’s optimism. Six of the 10 most popular species surveyed saw their breeding populations approach their all-time highs. Gadwall are up 30 percent from last year and are 67 percent above their long-term average; green-winged teal are up 20 and 39 percent respectively; blue-winged teal were up 28 and 30 percent; northern shoveler climbed 2 percent and 69 percent above their LTA; redheads were up 55 percent and 47 percent, and canvasbacks were up 33 percent for the year and 23 percent from their LTA.

The pintail population of 3.4 million is the highest it’s been since 1997, but remains 18 percent below its LTA.

Scaup continued their downward spiral, slipping another 4 percent to 3.247 million birds, 37 percent below its long-term average. American wigeon also continued to slide, dropping 2 percent to 2.2 million, 17 percent below its long-term average.

Despite all the good news, Olson says he’s somewhat concerned about mallard numbers. “The breeding populations of six species were up 20 to 55 percent from a year ago, which would suggest we had some pretty good production last year. Those species are now far above their long-term averages.

“Yet mallards only rose 8 percent and remain 3 percent below their long-term average. Given the fact that mallards are our most adaptable species, those numbers have to be a concern.”

The biologists who wrote Southern Saskatchewan Breeding Population Survey echoed Olson’s concern. “Surprisingly, our estimate for mallards has not been as quick to respond to the improved habitat in the Parklands,” they wrote. “Mallards typically prefer the Parkland region and in previous wet years we have seen big increases in the population estimates over a short period of time.”

Says Olson, “Since 2004, Saskatchewan has seen an 86 percent increase in wetlands and Alberta is 95 percent wetter, but the mallard breeding populations in those provinces have not responded. The breeding population in Saskatchewan this year remains 12 percent below its long-term average, and the mallard B-pop in Alberta is 18 percent below the LTA.

“Those numbers are cause for concern, and bear watching,” says Olson.

The mallard breeding population on the U.S. side of the PPR is well above its long-term average—92 percent higher for the eastern Dakotas and 35 percent higher in the western Dakotas and Montana, Olson notes.

Unfortunately, moisture conditions on the U.S. side of the Prairie Pothole Region have deteriorated since the survey flights were conducted in May. “Drying conditions could impact production on the U.S. side of the border and put more pressure on Canada, where wetland conditions remain excellent,” Olson says.

Editors: For more information, contact John Devney at 1-888-987-3695.