May pond counts are 4% above the long-term average, which should lead to good duck production and strong fall flight.
BISMARCK, NORTH DAKOTA — After being canceled for the previous two years due to concerns about COVID-19, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service were able to conduct the annual Survey of breeding population and habitat of waterfowl this spring. The results were published today in the USFWS 2022 Waterfowl Status Report.
The survey, which is used to set hunting regulations throughout North America, put the total spring breeding population index at 34.2 million ducks, 4% below the long-term average and 12% below of the 2019 index. Importantly, the May pond count, a key indicator of duck production potential, showed 5.45 million ponds, 4% above the long-term average and 9% above of the 2019 index.
“Given the widespread dry conditions last year in most of the meadows where ducks breed, it is not surprising that the number of the breeding population is lower than it had been for most of the 2010s,” he said. Dr. Chris Nicolai, Delta Waterfowl Waterfowl Scientist. “The good news is that much of the prairie, especially the Dakotas, Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan, was very wet this spring. Duck production should be good to excellent in the eastern part of the prairie and in the northern areas as well.”
Duck production is typically high the first year after a drought, said Dr. Frank Rohwer, Delta’s president and chief scientist.
“Predators have a hard time in dry years just like ducks, so ducks tend to rest when the water returns to the grasslands,” he said. “Our predator management sites and duck nesting surveys show very high nesting success this year.”
Delving deeper into the survey results, the breeding population of mallard ducks was estimated at 7.22 million, which is 9% below the long-term average of the survey, which dates back to 1955. In fact, the population breeding mallard is lowest since 2005. , mallard production should be good this year across much of the prairie.
The blue-winged teal, the second most abundant duck in the survey at 6.49 million, is 27% above the long-term average and 19% above the 2019 population. The indexed green-winged teal in 2.17 million, a 32% decrease from 2019, but fair in the long-term average.
“The teal numbers are the surprise of the survey,” Rohwer said. “It’s the opposite of what we might expect, with blue wings so high and green wings so low.”
Among other puddle ducks, mallards came in at 2.67 million, down 18% but still 30% above the long-term average. Wigeons decreased 25% to 2.13 million, 19% below the long-term average, while Shovelers, at 3.04 million, remain 15% above the long-term average.
Among the species of diving ducks estimated in the survey, scaups, also known as bluebills, were estimated at 3.6 million, 28% below the long-term average but unchanged from 2019. Canvasbacks numbered 585 000, which is 1% below the long-term average and 10% below 2019. Redheads increased to 991,000, up 35% from 2019 and 36% above the long-term average.
“Prairie-nesting duck species such as blue-winged teal, mallards, mallards, and redheads should really benefit from the wet conditions in the eastern Dakotas and Manitoba,” Nicolai said. “Hunters should see a lot more young ducks compared to last year. Remember we hunt the fall flight, not just the breeding population. Years when duck production is strong, as it should be this year, generally provide the best hunting seasons.”
Pintails remain locked in long-term decline. They were estimated at 1.78 million, 21% below 2019 and 54% below the long-term average. Their numbers are the lowest in the history of the survey.
“Not surprising given the drought in Saskatchewan and on the prairies last year,” Rohwer said. “It was a really bad recipe for pintail to nest.”
In the Eastern Survey Area, which estimates duck abundance at breeding grounds on the Atlantic Flyway, mallards increased 15%, black ducks increased 9%, and green-winged teal numbers increased down 7% from 2019. Ring-necked duck populations decreased 11%%, goldeneyes increased 23%, and mergansers increased 13%. Waterfowl breeding habitat conditions were good to excellent throughout the Eastern Study Area this spring.
May pond counts are a key driver of duck production, and the news is good for most of the prairie in 2022. Drought gripped the Prairie Pothole region in 2021, but a series of major storms dumped snow and heavy rain in Manitoba and the Dakotas earlier. this year, recharging critical wetland basins. That’s reflected in the pond count for May, which showed 1.98 million ponds in the north-central United States and 3.47 million ponds in the prairies of Canada. The total of 5.45 million ponds is 4% above the long-term average and 9% above 2019.
Mike Buxton, senior waterfowl program manager for Delta Waterfowl, said major storms and cooler-than-normal spring temperatures delayed nesting season in the Dakotas and Manitoba. However, the rain and snow provided excellent habitat for the ducks.
“Ice release and nesting were delayed, but nesting conditions were good this spring due to wet weather,” Buxton said.
Buxton, who leads Delta’s predator management program, noted that predator populations appeared to have declined this spring, likely as a result of significant 2021 drought conditions and a harsh 2021-2022 winter.
“Duck production should be good this year and it looks to be phenomenal in parts of North Dakota this year,” Buxton said. “Water, including temporary and seasonal ponds, remained on the landscape well into this year’s nesting season. That provides opportunities for hens that might have lost a first nest to predators to come back to roost and hatch.”
While habitat conditions were good to excellent in the eastern prairies, southwestern Saskatchewan and southern Alberta were dry this spring. The western United States, particularly California, remains mired in drought. Duck production in those areas is expected to be poor.
Overall, duck production is expected to be strong in 2022, which means more ducks than decoys when waterfowl season kicks off.
“It’s going to be another great year for waterfowl hunting,” said Dr. Scott Petrie, executive director of Delta Waterfowl. “All of us at The Duck Hunters Organization encourage you to have a safe and enjoyable hunting season.”
For more information, contact Dr. Chris Nicolai at firstname.lastname@example.org Joel Brice, (888) 987-3695, email@example.com.
The Delta Waterfowl Foundation is The Duck Hunters Organization, a leading conservation group working to produce ducks and ensure the tradition of duck hunting in North America. Visit deltawaterfowl.org.