Earlier this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the state of breeding duck populations in North America and found record numbers; question is whether that will translate to better hunting.
There were record numbers last year too and it sure didn't feel like it translated to great hunting in Illinois. I am always curious what the report means to Illinois duck hunters.
As Ray Marshalla, recently retired state waterfowl biologist, always said, the critical factor is the weather when it comes to hunter success.
Here is the word from the USFWS:
Although breeding habitat conditions have declined from previous years, the 2012 "Trends in Duck Breeding Populations" report estimates waterfowl production in North America's duck factory is at a record high. This year's report estimate of 48.6 million is significantly higher than the 45.6 million birds estimated last year and 43 percent above the long-term average.
This annual report summarizes information about the status of duck populations and wetland habitats collected by wildlife biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Canadian Wildlife Service for the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey (Survey). The Survey samples more than two million square miles of waterfowl habitat across the United States and Canada.
Highlights from the Survey in the north-central United States, south-central and northern Canada, and Alaska (the traditional survey area) include the following population estimates:
• Mallard abundance is 10.6 million - a 15 percent increase over 2011 and a 39 percent increase over the long-term average of 7.6 million.
• Gadwall abundance is 10 percent above the 2011 estimate, and 96 percent above the long-term average.
• American wigeon abundance increased 3 percent from 2011, but remains 17 percent below the long-term average.
• Abundance of green-winged teal and blue-winged teal were 3.5 million and 9.2 million, which were 20 percent and 3 percent above their 2011 numbers. Both species continue to remain well above their long-term averages by 74 percent and 94 percent, respectively.
• Abundance for northern shovelers is 5.0 million, which is 8 percent above 2011, and 111 percent above their long-term average.
• Northern pintails are at 3.5 million which is 22 percent below the 2011 estimate and 14 percent below the long-term average.
• Redhead abundance was unchanged from last year but 89 percent above the long-term average.
• Canvasback abundance was 0.8 million, which was 10 percent above last year's estimate and 33 percent above their long-term average
• The combined lesser and greater scaup abundance estimate was 5.2 million, which was 21 percent above the 2011 estimate and 4 percent above the long-term average.
In the eastern survey area (northeastern United States and eastern Canada), the estimated abundance for American black duck, green-winged teal, and merganser populations showed an increase from 2011 estimates in this area. The survey showed declines in abundance for mallards, goldeneyes, and ring-necked ducks..
Habitat conditions observed across the survey areas during the 2012 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey were characterized by average to below-average moisture, especially in the southern portions; due primarily to a mild winter and an early spring.
The 2012 Survey's estimate of ponds for the north-central U.S. was 1.7 million, which was 49 percent below the 2011 estimate of 3.2 million, and similar to the long-term average. Significant decreases in wetland numbers and conditions occurred in the U.S. Prairies during 2012. Nearly all of the north-central U.S. habitat was rated as good to excellent in 2011; however, only the habitat in the coteau region of North and South Dakota was rated as good in 2012, and no areas were rated as excellent habitat this year. Drastic wetland declines in western South Dakota and Montana resulted in mostly poor to fair habitat conditions.
The annual Survey guides the Service's waterfowl conservation programs under authority of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Service works in partnership with state biologists from the four flyways - the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific - to establish regulatory frameworks for waterfowl hunting season lengths, dates, and bag limits, derived in part from the data gathered through this annual survey.
The entire "Trends in Duck Breeding Populations, 1955-2012" report can be downloaded from the Service's Web site at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov. Connect with our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfws, follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfwshq, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwshq.