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Continental Duck Population Up

Continental duck populations have increased over last year to record levels, and their habitat conditions have improved, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report released earlier this week.

The preliminary estimate for the total duck population is 49.2 million birds, an 8 percent increase over last year’s estimate of 45.6 million birds, and 43 percent above the long-term average. It’s also the highest population recorded during the annual surveys.

“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.”

Added Yaich: “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.”

Meanwhile, the report also provides abundance estimates for individual duck species, including mallard, blue-winged teal, northern pintail, American wigeon, lesser and greater scaup, and canvasback, all of which are similar to or slightly above last year’s totals.

Most species’ populations, such as mallard and blue-winged teal, remain significantly above the long-term average, while others, including scaup and pintail are still below.

Here are some details:

∎ Estimated mallard abundance is 10.9 million birds, similar to last year’s estimate of 10.4 million birds and 42 percent above the long-term average.

∎ Blue-winged teal estimated abundance is 8.5 million, which is 10 percent above the 2013 estimate of 7.7 million, and 75 percent 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 percent below the long-term average.

∎ American wigeon were 18 percent above the 2013 estimate and 20 percent above the long-term average.

∎ The combined (lesser and greater) scaup estimate of 4.6 million was similar to 2013 and 8 percent 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 percent above the long-term average.

The annual duck survey encompasses more than 2 million square miles of waterfowl habitat across Alaska, north-central and northeastern U.S. states, and south-central, eastern and northern Canada. The survey area doesn’t include Minnesota.