Duck breeding numbers decline, but not significantly, in 2013
By John K. Flores
This past week the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service released its “Trends in Duck Breeding Populations 1955-2013” report. And after flying hundreds of thousands of miles of transects with ground crews creating visibility correction factors for accuracy, like the television program “Family Feud,” the survey says though duck breeding numbers are down from 2012, most species remain above the long-term average since statistics began in 1955.
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Waterfowl Study Leader Larry Reynolds said, “The numbers are mostly down from last year but still in very strong shape except for pintails and scaup. The 20 percent population decline for scaup will lead to a reduction in bag limit from four to two per day. The slight increase in canvasbacks will lead to an increase in bag limit from one to two per day. And, although pintails have declined for the second year in a row, population levels are still high enough to support a daily bag limit of two.”
Most serious waterfowl hunters who wait with baited breath each summer for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services report will remember last year’s record numbers of breeding ducks stemmed from record pond counts in 2011.
Where ducks are concerned, it’s all about habitat and moisture. And pond numbers were significantly lower in 2012 than the previous year.
That condition was not the case in 2013 as there was a marked increase in pond numbers.
Reynolds said, “Pond numbers are up 24 percent from last year and 35 percent above the long term average, which typically bodes well for reproductive success. The only question is that the water came pretty late in May over much of the breeding grounds. Still, it should help the later nesting species like gadwalls and blue wings, which are important to Louisiana’s harvest.”
When it comes to the 10 ducks cited annually in the survey index, sadly only a few are considered “quality” ducks by some hunters, typically mallards, gadwalls, widgeons, pintails and teal.
The report indicated mallard breeding numbers declined 2 percent but remain 36 percent above the long-term average; gadwalls numbers declined 7 percent but still remain a whopping 80 percent above the long-term average; widgeons, a concern the past several years and one of only two species that increased in breeding numbers in comparison to 2012’s survey, saw a 23 percent increase; and pintails declined 4 percent.
The popular blue winged teal, though seeing a 16 percent decline in breeding numbers from a record set in 2012, still remains 60 percent above the average.
Perhaps most important for Louisiana waterfowl hunters, the bag limit looks to be increased from four to six during the September Special Teal Season.
“We have been trying to increase the bag limit during the teal season for as long as I’ve been at the LDWF,” said Reynolds, who has been with the department since 2005. “When teal seasons were initiated in 1965, the daily bag limit for ducks was four per day, and that is why the September teal season was set at four. It had never changed and the USF&WS resisted increasing the bag limit despite many consecutive years of solid population data. Four years ago, the USF&WS said they would no longer entertain any more recommendations until a complete assessment of harvest potential for teal was conducted. In short, the assessment found that there is additional harvest potential for blue winged teal.”
Other notables from this year’s survey point out that canvasbacks are 37 percent above the long-term average, as are redheads (+76), green winged teal (+51) and shovelers (+96).
Delta Waterfowl President Dr. Frank Rohwer, in press information released by the organization, said, “We started with good water, and it got better with rains in May. All research shows that renesting effort and duckling survival are tied to good water conditions. Last year, wetland conditions eroded over the course of the breeding season, which is very common. This year conditions improved markedly with spring and early summer rains. Our field crews in North Dakota and Manitoba have found renesting ducks, including gadwall still laying eggs just this week. We have water this year, and that equals great duck production.”
The survey says duck numbers almost across the board have declined this year, but hunters should take heart in that most species’ long-term averages remain stable. And that bodes well for the upcoming duck seasons both September’s Special Teal and regular big-duck season come November.