Duck numbers bounce back after
By Chris Niskanen
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Drought conditions have significantly eased in the Dakotas
and Canada's prairie provinces, giving a much-needed boost
to North America's duck population, waterfowl biologists
Breeding duck estimates for Canada and the United States
were up 16 percent from last year, according to a U.S.
Fish and Wildlife report released Thursday. Mallard populations
were about the same as last year.
The news reflects a dramatic turnaround in drought conditions.
Timely spring rains fell through much of the northern
continent's prairie region, providing ducks with critical
water during the nesting season.
"It was amazing the water came back so quickly,"
said Tom Landwehr, Minnesota conservation director for
Ducks Unlimited. "Since the rain came just before
spring migration, it saved the day."
Although duck population surveys still show some declines
in the Dakotas, populations appear to have dodged a long-term
drought that waterfowl managers feared.
"If you'd asked me a couple of months ago how things
look, I would have said pretty dismal," said Joel
Brice, a waterfowl biologist with the Bismarck, N.D.-based
Delta Waterfowl Foundation. "All in all, conditions
are quite good for ducks."
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department reported last
week that the 2003 duck index was down 27 percent from
last year, but the number probably wasn't an accurate
picture of duck numbers because last year's record-breaking
index counted birds that were still migrating through
This year's mallard index in North Dakota was 187 percent
above the long-term average since 1948, and all other
species, except for green-winged teal and canvasbacks,
were above the long-term average.
More important, the number of ponds in North Dakota was
up 48 percent from last year and 58 percent above the
long-term average, mostly a result of rains that boosted
shallow and temporary wetlands this spring.
Minnesota's duck news is mixed. The Department of Natural
Resources reported recently that the state's mallard breeding
population dropped 23 percent from last year, but was
still 29 percent above the average since 1968. Blue-winged
teal dropped 55 percent from last year and were 15 percent
below the long-term average.
Minnesota's Canada goose population estimate of 304,000
was down from 335,000 last year, but still exceeded population
Good water conditions exist in South Dakota, western
Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta, which bodes well for
"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," said Jeff
Lawrence, a Minnesota waterfowl biologist.
Biologists are still compiling survey data and preparing
to make season recommendations later this summer. Last
week's Fish and Wildlife report gives a strong indication
that duck seasons and regulations may not change this
"I wouldn't say it's a lock, but it seems pretty
likely we'll have the same framework as last year,"
For Minnesota, that means a 60-day season opening either
on Sept. 27 or Oct. 4. North Dakota is proposing opening
its season Sept. 27 for residents and Oct. 4 for nonresidents.