U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says duck count highest since 1995, pointing to great hunting
More good news came this week for Mississippi duck hunters when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued its 2012 spring waterfowl survey findings.
Duck populations increased 7 percent over 2011, and now stand 43 percent higher than the long-term average (since 1955). The total number of ducks is estimated at 48.6 million ducks, compared to the 45.6 estimated just a year earlier.“Of course that’s great news any way you look at it, but in particular it is better because last year I think we learned that high populations can offset miserable hunting conditions,” said Phil Ballard, an avid waterfowler in Southaven. “We had an unseasonably warm winter last year, and we still had one of our best seasons ever at my DeSoto County camp.
“It was really, really good, even though we rarely hunted in even 30-degree temperatures for more than one or two days at a time.”
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s total duck estimate is the highest since 1955.
Included in that count are many species well above the long-term average, including mallards — the duck most critical to the Mississippi Flyway. The 10.6 million mallards is 15 percent more than 2011 and 40 percent above the long-term average.
Two species that compensated for a shortage of the slow-migrating mallard in Mississippi last season — gadwall (up 96 percent) and green-winged teal (up 94 percent) — are nearly double the long-term average. Blue-winged teal are up 20 percent over the past year and 74 over the long-term average.
Other flourishing species include shoveler (111 percent above the long-term average), redhead (49 percent over the long-term average) and canvasback (89 percent over the long-term average).
The importance of having several strong species wasn’t lost on hunters.
“Last year, we had some flights of mallards but nothing consistent,” said Jacob Sartain of Madison, who hunts in the mid-Delta region. “What we did have was a good number of green-wings and gadwall, and that carried our season. We did have some good mallard days, but fronts pushing them south were few and far between.
“Mostly what we did was watch for warm weather fronts moving up out of the Gulf, bringing us more ducks like gadwall and teal back into the Delta. It was a good thing those species were already above the long-term average last year. We needed them.”
There is bad news from the survey, too.
Pintails, which were up in previous years, fell again this year to 22 percent lower than last year and 14 percent below the long-term average.
And, according to the surveys, the news is not good for breeding habitat. The survey is calling 2012 an “average to below-average” year for moisture. The total pond count for prairie Canada and United States combined has dropped 32 percent, from an estimated 8.1 million ponds last year to 5.5 million this year.
That is likely to hurt the 2013 survey numbers, just as last year’s high pond count helped in the current survey.
“This is the highest duck count since we started the survey in 1955,” Dr. Frank Rohwer, Delta Waterfowl’s scientific director, said in a press release. “We had excellent wetland conditions in 2011, the second-highest pond count ever. So last year, we made a pile of ducks. This year, we’re counting them.”
“The good ol’ days of duck hunting are right now.”