Breeding Population Survey Released; Wet Conditions Attract Ducks to Dakotas
Full report here
BISMARCK, NORTH DAKOTA -At first glance, the results of the 2009 duck breeding population and habitat survey are eye-popping: May ponds across the prairie breeding grounds increased 45 percent from a year ago, the total duck population was up 25 percent and mallard numbers climbed 10 percent.
Look closer, however, and some of the survey's findings explode from the pages like a Fourth of July fireworks display.
"If you would have told me 10 years ago we'd have twice as many pintails nesting on the U.S. side of the breeding grounds as Canadian prairie, I would have laughed in your face," said Dr. Frank Rohwer, Delta Waterfowl's scientific director.
Yet that's exactly what happened this year as 1.4 million pintails nested in the Dakotas and eastern Montana while only 664,000 set up housekeeping in prairie Canada. The U.S. side of the region also attracted 78 percent more blue-winged teal (4.5 million) than prairie Canada (2.5 million) and a higher percentage of mallards than any other year since the survey began in 1955.
The results of the breeding-population and habitat survey were released Thursday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service. The B-pop, as it's called, is the most extensive wildlife inventory on the continent.
The total duck breeding population rose 13 percent from 37.3 million to 42 million, and for the first time ever more ducks (14 million) settled on the U.S. side of the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) than the Canadian side (12.7 million).
"That's sobering news for prairie Canada, which continues to experience sub-par duck production, but exciting news for the U.S., where nest success has been excellent because of an abundance of grass and a scarcity of red fox," says Dr. Rohwer,
"Ducks track ponds and the Dakotas and eastern Montana are wet," says Senior Vice President John Devney. "Not only that, but thanks to heavy rains in June, our grass cover is in excellent shape and we've maintained good wetlands, which bodes well for re-nesting and brood survival.
"We ought to be making a bunch of baby ducks this year," echoed John Solberg, the USFWS pilot-biologist who flies the eastern Dakotas survey each spring. "We're very wet, and the cover response to recent rains has been incredible."
A breakdown of the numbers shows the PPR had a 45-percent year-over-year increase in May ponds to 6.4 million. Prairie Canada was 17 percent wetter than a year ago and 5 percent wetter than the long-term average while the U.S. side had a whopping 108 percent increase in wetlands and was 87 percent wetter than the LTA.
The mallard population climbed from 7.7 million to 8.5 million. The U.S. attracted a 2.96 million mallards while 3.04 million settled in prairie Canada.
Among the other most popular species, gadwall numbers were up 12 percent to 3.1 million; green-winged teal rose to an all-time record of 3.4 million; blue-winged teal rose 11 percent to 7.4 million; northern shovelers climbed 25 percent to 4.4 million; northern pintails were up 23 percent to 3.2 million; canvasbacks were up 35 percent to 662,000, and scaup rose for the third straight year, up 12 percent to 4.2 million, the highest level since 1999.
The only species to show a drop in breeding numbers were redheads, which were down one percent to 1.0 million, and wigeon, down one percent to 2.5 million.
The PPR constitutes only 10 percent of North America's breeding habitat but annually attracts two-thirds or more of all nesting ducks. The surveyed portion of the region includes North and South Dakota and a sliver of eastern Montana in the U.S., and prairie Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada. About 75 percent of the PPR exists in Canada, which historically attracted 75 percent of the ducks that nest there.
During the wet cycle of the 1990s, duck production on the U.S. side of the border increased dramatically thanks to 5 million acres of grass nesting cover provided by the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
"Things look great right now," Devney says, "but hunters need to remember we've lost more than a million acres of CRP just since 2007 and more contracts will expire this year. On top of that, we've been losing native prairie at an alarming rate and several million more acres are at risk. If we can't find a way to preserve existing upland cover, we simply won't enjoy this kind of production in the future."
Estimates of Breeding Ducks