Great breeding habitat jumps duck numbers by 11 percent in 2010

Duck breeding area such as this in southeastern Alaska had abundant moisture this spring and duck populations rebounded. The Fish and Wildlife Service is reporting overall duck populations are up 11 percent over last year.

Duck populations this spring jumped 11 percent over 2010 thanks to improved breeding habitat in Canada and the prairies of the north-central United States, according to a report released this week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Total duck populations were estimated at 45.6 million breeding ducks on the surveyed area (north-central United States, south-central and northern Canada, and Alaska), an 11 percent increase over last year’s estimate of 40.9 million birds and 35 percent above the 1955-2010 long-term average.

Additionally, this was only the fifth time in the survey’s history that the total duck population exceeded 40 million birds.

The total duck estimate excludes scoters, eiders, long-tailed ducks, mergansers, and wood ducks.

“Full wetlands and good upland cover will likely support a strong breeding effort, particularly in the prairies this year,’ ” said Dale Humburg, chief scientist for the conservation group Ducks Unlimited.

The report, Trends in Duck Breeding Populations, contains information about the status of duck populations and wetland habitats found during surveys conducted in May and early June.

Other highlights from the traditional survey area include:

Mallard were estimated at 9.2 million birds, up 9 percent from 2010 estimate and 22 percent above the long-term average.

Blue-winged teal were estimated at a record 8.9 million, 41 percent above the 2010 estimate and 91 percent above the long-term average.

The northern pintail estimate of 4.4 million was 26 percent above the 2010 estimate, exceeding 4 million for the first time since 1980.

Estimated abundance of American wigeon was 14 percent below the 2010 estimate and 20 percent below the long-term average.

The combined (lesser and greater) scaup estimate of 4.3 million was similar to that of 2010 and 15 percent below the long-term average of 5.1 million.

The canvasback estimate of 700,000 was 21 percent above the long-term average.

The report said habitat conditions across the U.S. and Canadian prairies and parklands were considered excellent while boreal regions of Alaska and northern Canada were good to very good at the time of the survey.

As many of the regions important to breeding ducks continued to receive significant snow melt and precipitation during the spring, researchers expect later breeding efforts and good brood survival.

If these wet conditions continue, researchers say prospects going into the winter and possibly into spring 2012 will be favorable as well.

“This year I am reminded again of what happens when survey timing, habitat conditions, populations and weather line up to produce a really favorable report,” Humburg said.

While the news is good for waterfowl hunters, much work remains on the political scene, said Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall.

“As a waterfowler, I’m optimistic about today’s report. However, unprecedented water conditions are only part of the story,” Hall said. “As good as the news is this week, waterfowl and prairie habitats continue to face significant long-term threats.

“Key public policies such as the Farm Bill and North American Wetlands Conservation Act will need to continue to focus on conservation for the good news to carry into the future.”

The surveys are conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Services’ Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, which involves sampling more than two million square miles of waterfowl habitat.

The Servive works with state biologists from the four flyways — Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific —  to establish regulations governing waterfowl hunting season lengths, dates, and bag limits.

The report is available from the Service’s website,


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