Favorable weather conditions throughout much of North America helped U.S. and Canadian duck populations set new records this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports.
FWS officials estimate duck populations at a record 48.6 million breeding adults, a 7 percent increase over last year’s population and 43 percent above the 1955-2010 long-term average.
Plentiful Canadian Wetlands
Plentiful spring rains and snow melt in Canadian breeding grounds in 2010 and 2011 created abundant ponds and wetlands for duck breeding. Drier conditions this past winter and spring did little harm to the growing duck population.
“Early indications were that the mild and dry conditions experienced across North America this past fall and winter would negatively impact spring pond conditions and allow increases in grassland conversion rates, ultimately impacting nesting efforts this season,” said Ducks Unlimited Chief Scientist Dale Humburg.
However, he reported, “Strong returning duck populations and late spring precipitation brightened prospects for 2012 duck production. If nesting and brood-rearing conditions are favorable over the next few months, we could see another strong fall flight.”
Drier in Upper Midwest
Steve Cordts, a waterfowl staff specialist for the Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources, says drier conditions this year in the U.S. Upper Midwest, after many years of above-average precipitation, might drive some duck populations south in the upcoming year.
“The wild rice levels in Minnesota have been pretty low this year due to the draught, so that means there won’t be as much food or water for the ducks. This could benefit Texas and other southern states,” said Cordts.
“We’re number two or three in the country behind Texas and Louisiana. We usually sell about 90,000 duck stamps every year, but a harvest this year is hard to predict,” he said.
“When you completely dry out a wetland basin and then put water back into it, a lot of food will grow quickly, attracting a lot of ducks, so this is usually good for the hunters. It’s still pretty dry right now in Minnesota, and we don’t expect it to change much before the hunting season,” said Cordts.
Benefits for the South
Kevin Kraai, waterfowl program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept., agrees this will be a very good year for duck hunters in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri.
“A lot of people missed out on hunting season last year because of the drought conditions. There just weren’t enough wetlands for them to hunt, so they sat it out. This year, those low-lying areas have been receiving a lot of rain, especially after the FWS report came out in June,” Kraai said.
“After the FWS estimate came out in that report, there’s been a lot of rain in the Gulf Coastal regions between May and September, and Hurricane Isaac pushed a lot of precipitation into Arkansas and Missouri,” he observed.
“Texas is sitting in a very good position this year because the drought has pushed north and has moved into the central states, which means their wetlands are very dry and there is less water and food. In places like Kansas, I’ve heard there is no water, so the ducks that come through the central flyway will bypass Kansas and come straight on into Texas this year,” he predicted.
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.