Despite a 21 percent loss of nesting wetland habitat in the breeding grounds, the breeding duck population estimate of 48.4 million ducks remains well above the long-term average.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) 2016 survey, the estimate is down two percent from last year’s 49.5 million, but is 38 percent above the average from 1955 to 2015.
Most important to Mississippi duck hunters is the projected mallard fall flight index of 13.5 million birds, very similar to the 2015 estimate of 13.8 million. The spring survey found 11.793 breeding mallards, which is 51 percent above the long-term average.
The survey is used in part to determine the frameworks for the duck season, and, while the 2016-17 season has already been set under a new program, the survey numbers easily support the existing “liberal” frameworks.
Mallards, at a 1 percent growth, were one of five species showing a statistical increase over the past year. Others included the American wigeon at 12 percent, green-winged teal at 5 percent, redhead at 8 percent and scaup at 14 percent.
The worst news, which could have an impact on the upcoming September teal season, is that blue-winged teal are down 22 percent from last year’s survey. However, the total estimate of 6.689 blue-winged teal is still 34 percent above the long-term average.
Other species showing a decline are gadwall at 3 percent below 2015, Northern shoveler 10 percent, Northern pintail 14 percent and canvasback 3 percent.
Houston Havens, the waterfowl program coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, wasn’t surprised that the numbers had slightly decreased.
“The waterfowl breeding grounds are still experiencing a decline in grassland nesting habitat in portions of the United States and Canada, which is extremely important for nesting waterfowl,” Havens said. “Significant acreage has been lost from these vital grasslands from declines in Conservation Reserve Program enrollment and loss of native prairie habitat.”
Havens added the standard reminder that weather will play the biggest role in the success or failure of Mississippi duck hunters.
“Even with breeding duck populations again near record numbers, Mississippi hunters are reminded that many factors will determine whether or not large numbers of these birds show up in Mississippi wetlands,” he said, adding that “fall and winter weather, as well as wetland habitat conditions here on the wintering grounds play major roles in duck migrations, which will ultimately define the hunting season for Mississippi’s duck hunters.”