Last week the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released their annual Trends in Duck Breeding Populations report, finding an increased abundance of the birds along with improved habitat conditions. The report is based on a survey of ducks across more than two million square miles in the United States and Canada. Preliminary estimates put the the total duck population in this range at 49.2 million birds, eight percent higher than last year’s count.

“It looks like another good waterfowl breeding year for a good portion of the prairies and the boreal forest,” said Dale Hall, CEO of the conservation organization Ducks Unlimited (DU). “Precipitation in the form of snow and rain has provided sufficient water to fill important wetlands in key breeding habitats. We hope this will result in good production and another great flight of birds migrating in the fall. DU and its partners continue to work hard to protect and restore habitat to provide for the needs of these birds and so much more. While we still have much work to do in delivering habitat and securing key conservation policies for sustaining these populations, we are heartened by the good results we have seen in the past few years.”

The populations of most duck species are still well above the long term average, especially the blue-winged teal, which currently number about 8.5 million.

According to the USFWS:

  • Estimated mallard abundance is 10.9 million birds, similar to last year’s estimate of 10.4 million birds and 42% above the long-term average.
  • Blue-winged teal estimated abundance is 8.5 million, which is 10% above the 2013 estimate of 7.7 million, and 75% above the long-term average.
  • The northern pintail estimate of 3.2 million was similar to last year’s estimate of 3.3 million, and remains 20% below the long-term average.
  • American wigeon were 18% above the 2013 estimate and 20% above the long-term average.
  • The combined (lesser and greater) scaup estimate of 4.6 million was similar to 2013 and 8% below the long-term average of 5 million. The canvasback estimate of 685 thousand was slightly lower than the 2013 estimate of 787 thousand, but was 18% above the long-term average.

Researchers found more than 7.2 million habitable ponds across the United States and Canada, which constitutes a 40 percent increase over the long-term average. Ducks Unlimited biologists have also observed strong breeding efforts across the prairies despite harsh late-winter conditions.

“This spring, as has been the case for the past several years, saw abundant moisture across much of North America’s most important duck breeding areas,” said DU Chief Biologist Scott Yaich. “That bodes well for duck breeding success this summer and, we hope, for hunting this fall. But we remain concerned with the continuing and escalating loss of nesting habitat in these areas. Because ducks need water, wetlands to hold the water and upland habitats to successfully raise their young, the ongoing loss of grasslands and wetlands across the Prairie Pothole Region will increasingly impact the number of ducks in the fall flight in the long-term.”

These numbers will play a role when USFWS officials and the flyway councils convene later this month to set recommendations for the 2014-2015 season.

Image from Dan Pancamo on the Wikimedia Commons

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