Duck numbers remain strong at 51 percent above long-term average

If we have a September teal season, there will be plenty of birds.

It might seem a little bit odd to talk duck hunting in July, but a recent report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates that we’re heading into November’s season opener with high expectations.

Something duck hunters can look forward to is another banner teal season in September. Both blue- and green-winged teal numbers are through the ceiling, so I don’t see any reason why the feds would not give us September season with liberal limits. Green-winged teal numbers are at 4.1 million, which is 19 percent above the 2014 estimate and 98 percent above the long-term average. The blue-winged teal population is right at 8.5 million, which is similar to the 2014 estimate and 73 percent above the long-term average.

The only negative in the latest report from the USFWS is that pintails are 24 percent below the long-term average. Field studies show that there are roughly 3 million pintails, which is similar to the 2014 estimates.

The report shows that duck numbers in the survey area are statistically similar to last year and remain strong. Total populations were estimated at 49.5 million breeding ducks in the traditional survey area, which is 51 percent above the 1955-2014 long-term average and the highest count on record. Last year’s estimate was 49.2 million birds.

“We are fortunate to see continued high overall duck populations in North America’s breeding areas this year,” said Dale Hall with Ducks Unlimited. “Though conditions were dry in some important habitats, we had large numbers of birds returning this spring and good conditions in the boreal forest and other areas of Canada. It looks like some typical prairie nesters skipped over the U.S. prairies and took advantage of good conditions farther north. This is an important reminder about the critical need for maintaining abundant and high-quality habitat across the continent.”

The main determining factor for duck breeding success is wetland and upland habitat conditions in the key breeding areas of the prairies. Conditions observed across the U.S. and Canadian survey areas during the 2015 breeding population survey were drier than last year. Total pond counts for the U.S. and Canada combined were 6.3 million, which is 12 percent below the 2014 estimate of 7.2 million and 21 percent above the long-term average, according to Eric Keszler with the USFWS.

“The spring surveys provide the scientific basis for many management programs across the continent, including hunting season dates and bag limits,” says Keszler. “The four flyway councils and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regulations Committee will meet in late July to recommend the season structure and bag limits for 2015-16. Individual states will make their specific selections within a federal framework of season length, bag limits and dates.”

An early spring balanced with poorer habitat conditions was apparent in this year’s survey.

“In addition to reduced precipitation over the winter and early spring, we have lost critical nesting habitat with the decrease in Conservation Reserve Program lands and continuing conversion of habitat to agricultural production across the U.S. prairies,” says DU’s Paul Schmidt. “Fortunately, these conditions had minimal impacts on this year’s overall breeding bird numbers, but hunters should be concerned about these trends and what they might mean in future years. We have experienced good moisture in the prairies and liberal bag limits for more than two decades. Continuing habitat losses and drier conditions have the potential to change this scenario in the future.”

Species estimates

• Mallards – 11.6 million, similar to the 2014 estimate and 51 percent above the long-term average

• Gadwal – 3.8 million, similar to the 2014 estimate and 100 percent above the long-term average

• American wigeon – 3.0 million, similar to the 2014 estimate and 17 percent above the long-term average

• Northern shovelers – 4.4 million, 17 percent below the 2014 estimate and 75 percent above the long-term average

• Redheads – 1.2 million, similar to their 2014 estimate and 71 percent above the long-term average

• Canvasbacks – 0.76 million, similar to the 2014 estimate and 30 percent above the long-term average

• Scaup – 4.4 million, similar to the 2014 estimate and 13 percent below the long-term average

• Black ducks – 541,000, 11 percent below the 2014 estimate and 13 percent below the long-term average

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