About a half million fewer mallards — 11 percent less than last year — were found, but the overall news is good from the 2017 annual breeding duck surveys released Tuesday by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Headlining the list of good news is that the annual nesting pond count increased by 22 percent, meaning the 47.3 million ducks have had plenty of brooding area to hatch their young.
That total number of ducks was down from 48.4 million in the 2016 survey, but it is still 34 percent more than the long-term average (LTA) since the surveys began in 1955. Mallards, the key duck in determining season frameworks, are still 34 percent over the LTA, and the important pond count is 17 percent higher than the LTA.
“Sounds like no big changes at all in breeding populations and with the increase in water holes, maybe we will see an increase in the actual migrations,” said avid waterfowl hunter Harvey Thompson of Greenville. “I had a great season last year and I’m thinking, from these numbers, it should be good. I know we did better than average on mallards last year and we had a bunch of gadwalls, probably the best gadwall numbers ever.”
Gadwalls are an astounding 111 percent above the LTA and 13 percent more than last year.
Other high-number species are the green-winged teal (70 percent over LTA) and the northern shoveler at 69 percent over the LTA.
There’s good news for September waterfowlers who make use of the 16-day teal season. Blue-winged teal are up 18 percent over last year and 57 percent over the LTA.
“With good weather conditions, which we didn’t get last September, we should have a banner teal season,” Thompson said.
Only two of the top 10 species are below the LTA, northern pintails at 27 percent under and scaup at 13 percent under. However, pintails are up 11 percent over last year while scaup actually fell 12 percent.
“This is great news for waterfowlers who can now turn their attention to preparing habitat, tuning up dogs and relentlessly watching the weather forecasts for the onset of fall and winter weather that will push the birds on their annual southward migration,” said Tom Moorman, Ducks Unlimited Chief Scientist.
“DU remains concerned about northern pintails and scaup in particular, as the survey information continues to indicate these two species remain below their long-term average populations. Both species have struggled to regain desired populations. We will continue to work with our many conservation partners to understand what drives populations of these two species. If science points to habitat limitations as contributing factors, we’ll rely on the science to develop conservation solutions to help restore populations of these birds.”
Moorman talked specifically about mallards.
“Hunters may notice in the report that mallards declined 11 percent, or about 1.3 million birds, from 2016,” he said. “The bulk of that appears to be related to drier conditions in the Canadian parklands region, where the surveys detected about 0.6 million fewer mallards. Overall, mallard populations remain in great shape, and FWS estimates the mallard fall flight will be similar to last year.
“Hunters should always remember that habitat and populations are going to vary over time, so we must keep focused on habitat conservation efforts over the long term. Ultimately, we need to maintain landscapes so that when precipitation and other conditions are right, the ducks will respond, produce more ducks and provide us all with a nice return on our conservation investments.”