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Spring duck numbers jump up in Minnesota

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Tim Spielman, Outdoor News

Bemidji, Minn.

The number of mallards nesting in Minnesota rose this year to 298,000, up 23 percent from last year’s spring survey count of 242,000 birds, according to Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. The DNR also says blue-winged teal numbers increased at the same rate, to about 152,000 birds.

The DNR wrapped up the spring survey in a mere eight days this year, compared with the more than 20-day span it took to compile 50 hours of flight time the previous four years. That no doubt influenced the survey to some degree, Cordts said, but likely more regarding teal and other ducks, than mallards.

More days spent in the air prior to 'leaf-out' allowed Cordts to better count woodies this year, too.

"There wasn’t a leaf in a tree, it was ideal conditions from the air," he said.


The mallard count this spring also was 34 percent above the long-term average of 222,000 ducks, which dates back to 1968, Cordts said. It was nearly identical to the 10-year average.

"It’s about what I expected," Cordts said, adding that numbers have been low in recent years, including a count of just 160,000 mallards in 2006.

Though bluewing numbers were up, Cordts said the population is still 28 percent below the 10-year average, and 32 percent below the long-term average.

Bluewing numbers seem to be more dynamic than those of other species, as bluewings seem to be more ’sensitive’ to wetland conditions, which were considered good in the state this year.

The combined total of ’other’ ducks species like gadwall, ringneck, redhead, wood ducks, and others ’�� increased to 290,000, about 65 percent above the long-term average. The early survey might have had a bearing on the results.

"This large increase simply reflects the late spring weather conditions and large numbers of migrant ring-necked ducks (about 100,000 counted) still present in the state when we flew the survey," Cordts said in a DNR press release. "What was more encouraging was to see small to moderate increases in the numbers of breeding wood ducks and other less common nesting species."

The total estimated breeding population of ducks in the state was 740,000, 51 percent higher than last year and 19 percent above the long-term average.

"The key is, the goal in the (state) duck plan is a 1 million-duck breeding population,’�� Cordts said. ’��We’��re still a fair bit below that ’Ķ It points to habitat issues."

Wetland habitat conditions were generally good this year; the number of wetlands increased from 262,000 last year to 325,000 this year. State duck counts are used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as it formulates a season framework for the fall hunt.

Canada geese

The estimate of Canada geese breeding in Minnesota rose from 262,000 last year to 277,000 this year, according to the DNR.

"While our goose population is still in very good shape, it appears that the breeding population is no longer increasing rapidly and may be stabilizing," DNR biologist Dave Rave said in an agency press release. "Even with the late spring this year, production should be better than last year."

Elsewhere in the Midwest

According to the Minnesota DNR, "Data on breeding duck populations across other regions of North America are not yet available, but preliminary reports suggest generally fair to good wetland habitat conditions in parklands of Canada, but drier conditions in some prairie areas of Canada and North Dakota."

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department conducts its own spring duck and wetland surveys, and found the 2008 water index to be down 70 percent from last year, as well as 57 percent below the 1948-2007 average.

The wetland index was the 10th lowest in history, according to the department’s report.

"However, these significant decreases in the wetlands indices do not tell the whole story," according to the Game and Fish report. "Wetland conditions are generally much worse than indicated by the numbers. This is because the survey counts water areas, not the amount of water contained in wetlands."

Duck numbers in North Dakota were similar to last year and remained relatively high compared with the 60-year average. According to the Game and Fish report: "The large number of ducks tallied during our survey is ’abnormal’ considering the extremely poor water conditions across the state."

"Part of this is due to the fact that we have been carrying a duck population that is well above average since the mid-1990s."

The North Dakota report indicates that South Dakota is experiencing significantly improved water conditions due to late winter/early spring precipitation.

The scaup bag

The USFWS Regulations Committee meets next week, and Delta Waterfowl officials fear a harvest strategy regarding scaup (bluebills) might be adopted by the group.

John Devney, senior vice president for Delta in Bismarck, N.D., said the group in the past has supported conservative harvest of ducks. But, he said, a strategy that would further reduce scaup harvest from two ducks to one duck would be detrimental to the sport of diver duck hunting, and to the species itself.

Continental scaup numbers continue to range above 3 million, he said, while the most recent harvest data show a kill of less than 360,000 nationwide during the 2005-06 hunting season.

Devney said Delta officials believe a further bag reduction is unnecessary, and both Central and Mississippi flyway officials have opposed further reductions.

"If (the proposed) model is adopted, a one-scaup limit would go into effect this year," he said.

Delta would like other to see alternative scaup management models considered ideally those that involve factors other than harvest prior to the implementation of a single model.


Numbers looking good for another year in a row...that's good news.

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With all this wet weather, we should have a great season this year!

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sounds like with a little rain this summer and a little luck in terms of weather this fall there shouldnt be any reason for hunters to complain.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I cant wait for the season. Early goose will be here before we know it!

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I'm definatley looking forward to early goose sounds like our group has a couple of fields that were good last year lined up, so lets hope they come on back.

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