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Continental breeding waterfowl numbers down in 2018

By MWA, 08/27/18, 8:30PM CDT


There was a time the release of the annual U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report of breeding water numbers and habitat conditions was edge-of-your-seat stuff, largely because the results directly influenced what seasons during the fall would look like.

Given changes in how and when seasons are set, that’s less the case these days, but still the report is required reading for hardcore waterfowl hunters and interesting to anyone who spends time afield.

Perhaps not surprisingly, breeding waterfowl numbers dipped this year, from 47.3 million in 2017 to 41.2 million this year. Down 13 percent, the total duck population estimate remains 17 percent higher than the long-term average. Habitat this year was similar or had declined from last year.

The report has all sorts of other interesting tidbits, as does the news release below from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

2018 waterfowl status report released

The 2018 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey Report-- including the most current breeding population information available for waterfowl in North America--is now available. In the traditional survey area, the total duck population estimate (excluding scoters, eiders, long-tailed ducks, mergansers, and wood ducks) was 41.2 million birds. This estimate was 13% lower than the 2017 estimate of 47.3 million and 17% higher than the long-term average (1955–2017).

In general, habitat conditions during the 2018 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey were similar to or declined, relative to 2017. Much of the Canadian prairies experienced average fall and winter precipitation and below-average spring precipitation. Fall and winter temperatures were mainly average. However, well-below-average temperatures were recorded February–April and were well-above average in May. The U.S. prairies experienced average-to-above-average precipitation but had more variable conditions compared to prairie Canada. Habitat conditions generally declined northward, particularly near the Montana–North Dakota border with Canada.

The total pond estimate (Prairie Canada and northcentral U.S. combined) was 5.2 million, which was 14% below the 2017 estimate of 6.1 million and similar to the long-term average of 5.2 million.

Conditions in much of the eastern survey area declined or remained similar relative to 2017. The region experienced mainly average precipitation since September 2017 and variable fall and winter temperatures. The entire region had well-below-average temperatures in April 2018 that continued into May in more northerly areas. Spring phenology and ice-out were generally normal or much later than normal, the latter mainly in northern Quebec and Labrador. Conditions for waterfowl production generally declined to fair or good, with northern areas affected by a late thaw and localized flooding farther south.

The report also provides abundance estimates for individual species, including the following:

  • Estimated mallard abundance was 9.3 million, which was 12% lower than the 2017 estimate of 10.5 million but 17% above the long-term average of 7.9 million.
  • The 2018 estimate for blue-winged teal, 6.4 million was 18% below the 2017 estimate and 27% above the long-term average of 5.1 million.
  • Estimated abundance of gadwall, 2.9 million, was 31% below 2017 but 43% above the long-term average.
  • The 2018 northern shoveler estimate was similar to last year and 62% above the long-term average of 2.6 million.
  • The estimated abundance of green-winged teal was 3.0 million, which was 16% below the 2017 estimate of 3.6 million and 42% above the long-term average (2.1 million).
  • Estimated abundance of redheads 1.0 million, was similar to the 2017 estimate but 38% above the long-term average of 0.7 million.
  • Northern pintail abundance, 2.4 million, was 18% below the 2017 estimate and 40% below the long-term average of 4.0 million.
  • Abundance estimates for American wigeon, 2.8 million, and canvasbacks, 0.7 million, were similar to their 2017 estimates and their long-term averages of 2.6 million and 0.6 million, respectively.
  • The combined estimate of lesser and greater scaup, 4.0 million, was similar to the 2017 estimate and 20% below the long-term average of 5.0 million.

The annual Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey guides the Service’s waterfowl conservation programs under authority of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Waterfowl population surveys and monitoring programs are critical components of successful waterfowl management and a reflection of the Service’s commitment to generating high-quality scientific data to inform conservation planning.