Ducks Unlimited Canada

Ducks Unlimited Canada

July 08, 2008 14:16 ET

Survey Duck Numbers Reflect Dry Conditions on Prairies

OAK HAMMOCK MARSH, MANITOBA--(Marketwire - July 8, 2008) - News that duck populations had dropped nine per cent across the continent's main waterfowl nesting areas this year was certainly not good news as far as Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) biologists were concerned. However, the news was not unexpected.

"It is much drier all across the Prairie Pothole region this year," said Mike Anderson, DUC's director of science and adaptation, about the continent's number one waterfowl breeding area. "Waterfowl production is likely to be poorer because of the dry conditions. There will be a few places where late rain may help species such as gadwall and blue-winged teal but that is entirely speculative at this point."

The duck counts were part of the annual U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) and Canadian Wildlife Services' (CWS) Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey that summarizes duck populations and wetland habitats during spring. In the traditional survey area, which covers most of the prairie pothole region as well as selected boreal and eastern areas, the total duck population estimate was 37.3 million, a nine per cent decline over last year's estimate of 41.2 million birds. Still, these numbers were 11 per cent above the 1955-2007 long-term average.

As far as individual species go, the news was harder on some than others. Estimates of canvasbacks were 44 per cent below the 2007 estimate and 14 per cent below the long-term average. The estimate for northern pintails was 2.6 million, which was 22 per cent below the 2007 estimate of 3.3 million, and 36 per cent below the long-term average. The scaup estimate was similar to 2007, and remained 27 per cent below the long-term average of 5.1 million. Blue-winged teal, green-winged teal and redhead numbers remained unchanged while mallards registered a decline of seven per cent. Gadwall (19 per cent), northern shoveler (23 per cent) and American wigeon (11 per cent) all experienced estimated declines.

While DUC biologists had a hunch that duck numbers may be down this year from last, the dry spell in the Prairies also took a toll on waterfowl habitat. Spring wetlands, the kind of habitat that ducks tend to flourish on when filled with water, declined 39 per cent or 3.1 million. Conversely to the prairies, many areas of eastern Canada endured a deluge of rain and snow earlier in the year.

The critical point, says Anderson, is whether spring ponds were lost from the temporary drying of ponds or permanent removal. Wet and dry wetland cycles are completely normal and actually help maintain the long-term productivity of prairie wetlands.

"With permanent loss, there is no hope of rebound for these habitats," he said. "But dry years like this are why DUC is focused on securing the productive capacity of the land for the long term. There will always be annual variability in weather that no human can control. The key is to have the land in such condition that when the water returns, wetlands refill, ducks settle and nest and eggs have a good chance of hatching."

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Contact Information

  • Ducks Unlimited Canada
    Leigh Patterson
    Corporate Media Relations Specialist
    (204) 467-3306