Duck numbers are up for eight of the 10 most popular species, including the oh-so-important mallard, according to the 2014 breeding population survey released Wednesday by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
The total count of 49.15 million ducks is an 8 percent increase over 2013 and an impressive 43 percent above the long-term average (since 1955).
Mallards rose slightly, 5 percent, from last year’s 10.37 million to 10.9 this year. That is 42 percent above the long-term average and more than enough to assure liberal frameworks for hunters again this winter. That would be a 60-day season with a 6 duck daily bag limit.
Mississippi hunters know the numbers don’t exactly mean a good season is coming.
“I like the sound of that, but if we don’t get another winter like we had last year — early, long and very cold — then it won’t matter,” said Dean Thomas of Cleveland. “We had a great season last year, but the year before with similar duck numbers, it was one of the worst we’ve had.
“Last year, we had ducks here in November, we had ducks here in December and we had even more ducks here in January. They came early and they kept coming. We had some slow days, but I think that was related more to the conditions we had on those days.”
The numbers are solid, thanks to a third straight year of good breeding conditions in the duck factories of the Midwest and Canada prairie land.
Only two species are below the long-term average, scaup 8 percent at 4.6 million and the northern pintail 20 percent at 3.2 million. The good news for scaup is an 11 percent increase over last year. Pintails are down 3 percent.
The only other species to show a decrease over last year is the canvasback, down 13 percent to .69 million.
Teal remain solidly above the long-term average, with blue-winged up 75 percent (and 10 percent over last year) and green-winged up 69 percent (and 13 percent over last year).
Another popular species, and an important one for Mississippi hunters, showing good numbers is the gadwall — up 14 percent from last year and 102 percent above the long-term average.
Ducks Unlimited, the private conservation organization that supports waterfowl programs, reacted with an immediate press release.
“It looks like another good waterfowl breeding year for a good portion of the prairies and the boreal forest,” DU CEO Dale Hall said in the release. “Precipitation in the form of snow and rain has provided sufficient water to fill important wetlands in key breeding habitats. We hope this will result in good production and another great flight of birds migrating in the fall.
“DU and its partners continue to work hard to protect and restore habitat to provide for the needs of these birds and so much more. While we still have much work to do in delivering habitat and securing key conservation policies for sustaining these populations, we are heartened by the good results we have seen in the past few years.”
The main determining factor for duck breeding success is wetland and upland habitat conditions in the key breeding landscapes of the prairies and the boreal forest. Total pond counts for the U.S. and Canada combined showed 7.2 million ponds, 4 percent higher than the 2013 estimate, and 40 percent above the long-term average.