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Continental waterfowl numbers hang steady at historically high levels

By MWA, 08/17/17, 7:15PM CDT

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this week released results of the breeding duck survey it has conducted with the Canadian Wildlife Service each year since 1955. The total number of ducks – 47.3 million – is slightly below last year’s estimate of 48.4 million, but still the fifth highest count on record and 34 percent above the long-term average. This year’s waterfowl-hunting regulations already are set, but it seems likely that based on these numbers, hunters in 2018 will enjoy another liberal duck season.

Highlights of the survey include a pintail population that’s up 10 percent from last year following five consecutive years of decline and a gadwall population that’s up 13 percent from last year – 111 percent above the long-term average. That gadwall population, in fact, is the highest it’s ever been. Blue-winged teal populations are up 18 percent from last year (57 percent above the long-term average) and shoveler numbers are up 10 percent from last year (69 percent above the long-term average).

Mallards were off last year’s record count 11 percent, though they’re still 34 percent above the long-term average. Wigeon were down 19 percent from last year, while green-winged teal, redheads, canvasbacks and scaup were down 16 percent, 13 percent, 1 percent and 12 percent, respectively. At the same time, all species expect pintails and scaup remain above their long-term averages.

But if there’s reason for pause, it’s in the pond counts, which were 22 percent higher than last year and 17 percent above the long-term average. Huh? In the United States prairie and in much of southern Canada, conditions were wet in May (when the survey was conducted), but they quickly dried out and have remained dry over the summer. That means both renesting and brood survival – production, in other words – likely will be lower than they’ve been in the recent past, which could directly affect the number of ducks that hunters see flying through their decoys this fall.