Canadian Duck Populations are on the Increase
Nothing is certain in the natural world, and nothing should be taken for granted, but the fall waterfowl-hunting picture is becoming clearer and clearer: It could be a darn good season.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which released its much-awaited Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey the second week of July, the fourth highest Canadian pond count on record helped propel the breeding populations of three duck species northern shovelers, redheads and canvasbacks to all-time highs and pushed the green-winged teal population to its second-highest level on record. Blue-winged teal, responding to improved wetland conditions in the U.S. and Canada, achieved their third highest breeding population ever.
May ponds across the surveyed area were at about 7 million, a 15 percent increase from 2006 and 44 percent higher than the long-term average, and the total-duck breeding population climbed 14 percent to 41 million birds. And mallards the King of Ducks rose 10 percent to slightly more than 8 million. Of the other species in the survey, gadwall climbed 19 percent to 3.4 million breeding birds, wigeon jumped 29 percent to 2.8 million, green-winged teal rose 13 percent to 2.9 million, blue-winged teal were up 14 percent at 6.7 million, shovelers rose 24 percent to 4.5 million, redheads climbed 10 percent to just over 1 million, scaup bounced 6 percent from year's record low to 3.5 million and canvasbacks jumped by a surprising 25 percent to 865,000.
One caveat: pintail numbers, which dipped to 3.3 million despite a 111 percent jump in the eastern Dakota survey area, dropped yet again, raising questions with duck biologists.
What's abundantly clear from the month-long ground and air survey (more on the survey below) is that the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in the breeding ground states of the North and South Dakota and parts of Montana is producing ducks particularly hunter favorites like mallards and pintails for hunters nationwide.
According to research conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, CRP, which has numerous fish and wildlife habitat benefits, is responsible for putting roughly 2 million additional ducks in the air each year.
And that's why hunter-conservationists need to contact their elected officials to ensure CRP is not only reauthorized in the next federal Farm BillΠthat1s all but certain, but here again you can't take anything for granted but funded in way that makes the program more attractive to farmers and landowners, many of whom are taking their lands out of CRP because of soaring corn prices. Contact your lawmakers today, and tell them to support CRP.
Question: Did you ever wonder how federal officials count the number of ponds and ducks? It seems like an impossible exercise, doesn't it?
The spring breeding survey, the world's largest wildlife inventory yes, the world's largest wildlife survey, which turned 50 in 2005 takes place in the air and on the ground.
Flying in single-engine planes at 100 miles an hour just 150 feet off the ground, pilot biologists document the species and sex of ducks observed on one side of the plane while an observer in the passenger seat records ducks and counts and types wetlands by size and permanence no easy task.
Their observations are captured by an onboard computer that's interfaced with a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit that merges the information about ducks and wetlands with the exact coordinates.
After the air campaign, "ground-truthing" begins. Teams of ground observers search 18-mile segments of the transects, counting birds that may have been missed by the flight crew. The ground crew's observations are used to arrive at what's called a "correction factor" that's used to produce the most accurate possible numbers.
It's a far cry from primitive data-collecting techniques employed by the pioneers of the spring survey. Those legendary scientists identified the transects that are basically the same as those being flown today.
Each spring the pilots fly some 45,000 miles across roughly two million square miles covering the Dakotas, western Montana, Alaska, the Yukon and the prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Unfortunately, the service has discontinued other long-term surveys because of lack of funding, as well as cut several important positions across pretty much every U.S. region. One of those "lost" surveys is the July survey that records July ponds and brood indexes across the breeding grounds.
That said, the spring breeding population and habitat survey is one of the great success stories in wildlife management. Now we just have to bring back the July survey so biologists and others can better access duck production on the breeding grounds.
Babe Winkelman is a nationally known outdoorsman who has been teaching people to fish and hunt for 25 years. Watch his award-winning "Good Fishing" television show on WGN-TV, Fox Sports Net, The Men's Channel, Great American Country Network and The Sportsman's Channel. Visit www.winkelman.com for air times.