Survey indicates duck numbers
down, goose stable
Breeding duck populations declined while Canada goose
populations were similar to last year, according to results
from the annual waterfowl surveys by the Minnesota Department
of Natural Resources.
"Numbers were lower than last year for most duck
species in the state, in part due to the early spring
this year," said Jeff Lawrence, wetland wildlife
populations and research group leader for the DNR. "Last
year, there were many ducks counted in Minnesota that
were still moving north during our May survey. The late
spring had delayed migration."
Each year in May, a DNR waterfowl biologist and conservation
officer pilot use a low-flying airplane to count waterfowl
and wetlands along set routes. To correct for birds missed
by the air crew, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ground
crew counts waterfowl along a portion of the routes. The
survey was designed to estimate breeding duck numbers
in the 40 percent of Minnesota that includes much of the
best duck breeding habitat.
The mallard breeding population in Minnesota this spring
was estimated at 281,000, which is 23 percent less than
last year. "This was the first year since 1991 that
mallard populations in Minnesota have been below 300,000,
but populations remain 29 percent above the average since
the current waterfowl survey began in 1968," said
May pond numbers were down four percent from last year
and down 12 percent from the 10-year average. "Overall,
while we expected lower duck populations this year, the
magnitude of the decline was greater than expected, especially
given that pond counts were similar to the previous year,"
Blue-winged teal numbers decreased 55 percent from last
year's near-record high numbers and were 15 percent below
the long-term average. "The decline to 193,000 was
not unexpected," Lawrence said. "We know that
many of the blue-winged teal in the state last year were
also late migrants."
However, this year's count was higher than the five years
prior to last year's high count.
Combined populations of other ducks, such as wood ducks
and ring-necked ducks, decreased 34 percent to 248,000
but remained 44 percent above the long-term average.
This was the third year that the DNR conducted a helicopter
survey of nesting Canada geese in April and early May.
The estimate of 304,000 geese was slightly lower than
last year's 335,000, but still exceeded statewide population
objectives, according to Steve Maxson, goose specialist
for the DNR.
"Conditions were dry throughout most of the state
during late April and early May when we flew the survey,
and geese were shifting to the better habitats,"
A DNR biologist and helicopter pilot count Canada geese
on 150 quarter-section (160-acre) plots randomly located
in Minnesota's three broad ecoregions: prairie, transition,
The number of breeding waterfowl in Minnesota is estimated
each year as part of an annual inventory of North American
"Data on breeding duck populations from Canada and
other states is not yet available, but preliminary reports
suggest generally good conditions in the Dakotas, and
much better conditions and duck numbers in prairie Canada
than we have seen in the past few years," Lawrence
Mallard population estimates from Minnesota will be combined
with estimates from other North American breeding areas,
along with a measure of habitat conditions, to determine
duck season length and bag limits for the fall.