U.S. duck numbers remain strong
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its preliminary report on breeding ducks and habitats, based on surveys conducted in May and early June. Total duck populations were estimated at 45.6 million breeding ducks on the surveyed area. This estimate represents an 11 percent increase over last year's estimate of 40.9 million birds and is 35 percent above the 1955-2010 long-term average.
"The FWS has reported nearly unprecedented waterfowl habitat conditions and breeding duck population levels for 2011 -- the best in several years for some areas," said Ducks Unlimited's Chief Scientist Dale Humburg.
Habitat conditions across the U.S. and Canadian prairies and parklands were considered excellent. Further north, wetland conditions in most boreal regions of Alaska and northern Canada were good to very good at the time of the survey. During the survey and into early summer, many regions important to breeding ducks continued to receive significant snow melt and further precipitation, which could increase later breeding efforts and ensure brood survival. If these wet conditions continue, prospects going into the winter and possibly into spring 2012 will be favorable as well.
In addition to extensive grassland cover, one of the most important elements in duck breeding success is the amount of water present in portions of prairie and parkland Canada and the north-central United States. Total pond counts for the United States and Canada combined showed 8.1 million ponds, a 22 percent increase from last year's estimate.
Of the 10 species traditionally reported, eight were similar to or increased in number from 2010. Two species (scaup and American wigeon) remained below their long-term average. Northern shovelers, blue-winged teal and northern pintails were bright spots on this year's survey. Northern shovelers and bluewings reached record highs (4.6 and 8.9 million, respectively), and northern pintail numbers surpassed 4 million for the first time since 1980. Scaup numbers were similar to 2010 and remain below their long-term averages. Only three species -- scaup, northern pintail and American wigeon -- remain below North American Waterfowl Management Plan population goals.
Nesting cover across the Prairie Pothole Region continues to decline, particularly on the U.S. side of the border. During the survey, observers noted many large tracts of former Conservation Reserve Program grasslands that had been converted to cropland since last year or were in the process of being plowed. Expiring CRP contracts and high commodity prices driven by biofuel demands and other economic factors are pushing these conversions. North Dakota alone has lost 22 percent of its CRP acres since 2007. Experts project that another 387,000 acres will be lost in 2010-2011 and more than 1 million acres will be lost in 2012-13.