North Dakota Spring Breeding Duck Numbers Up

By author of The Duck Blog

Biologists credit spring wetland conditions, good previous production

May duck counts in North Dakota looked promising, but a July brood survey will provide a better picture of 2019 production. Photo © Dale Northey/Shutterstock

Abundant spring rains might have Midwestern farmers fuming, but they’ve given prairie-pothole ducks a lift. According to a June 24 article on the North Dakota Game and Fish website, Spring 2019 breeding duck numbers increased by about 20 percent from 2018.

The GFD’s 72nd annual spring breeding duck survey, conducted in May, showed an index of about 3.4 million birds. Mike Szymanski, the state’s migratory game-bird supervisor, said that number was the 22nd highest recorded and is 40 percent above the long-term (1948 through 2018) average.

“Breeding duck numbers generally trend with wetland conditions,” Szymanski said in the article. “The large number of ducks in North Dakota this spring can again be attributed to the large number of ducks that we have been producing for many years.”

Survey results for all primary species were up from 2018 estimates, including mallards (16 percent), green-winged teal (81 percent) and ruddy ducks (57 percent). All other ducks ranged from 5 percent (scaup) to 40 percent (pintails) higher than 2018’s numbers. All species except pintails and blue-winged teal were higher than the 71-year average.

The prairie pothole region of Canada and the United States remains the world's most important waterfowl breeding habitat. Photo © Forrest Carpenter The number of temporary and seasonal wetlands increased 46 percent, which was substantially higher than in 2018. The water index is based on basins with water and does not necessarily represent the amount of water contained in wetlands or the type of wetlands represented.

“Water conditions ranged from poor to excellent across the state,” Szymanski said in the article. “Excellent wetland conditions in the south and east quickly deteriorated moving into the north-central region, but (they) are fair to good in the northwest.”

Szymanski said concerns about waterfowl habitat remain, as nesting cover in North Dakota continues to decline.

“Waterfowl breeding habitats are under extreme pressure, and expiring Conservation Reserve Program contracts and the continual conversion of habitat to other uses can only further reduce waterfowl production in the state,” he said.

The state’s July brood survey typically provides a better idea of duck production and insight into expectations for fall. Also, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2019 Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, scheduled to be released in August, will provide a more comprehensive waterfowl season outlook.

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