Estimate of breeding population of ducks falls below average

August 18, 1992|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,Staff Writer

In the short term, this has been a productive summer for North American duck populations. But, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1992 Status of Waterfowl & Fall Flight Forecast, the breeding population estimate was 8 percent below the long-term average.

According to the report, which is a primary tool used by waterfowl managers in setting hunting seasons and bag limits, the overall flight south from the breeding grounds across the northern prairie states and north through the prairie provinces of Canada will be similar to last year's.

The fall flight of mallards, however, is expected to increase to 9.2 million, up 20 percent over last year, even though the breeding population was 17 percent below the average from 1955 through 1991.

According to the report, spring weather conditions were one to two weeks late across the Arctic, northern and eastern Canada and the northeastern United States, and dry conditions existed during May across the central and western portions of the prairie-pothole regions.

While the number of ponds, where ducks nest and breed in prairie Canada and the north-central United States increased 13 percent from 1991, the number was still 21 percent below the 1974 through 1991 average.

Still, there was enough rainfall this year to maintain wetlands in prime breeding areas.

A USFWS survey estimated a total North American breeding population of ducks in 1992 (excluding scoters, eiders, oldsquaws and mergansers) at 29.4 million, an increase from 26.6 million in 1991 but 8 percent below the average from 1955 through 1991.

Among the 10 principal species, excluding mallards, only the gadwall (up 28 percent) and the redhead (up 34 percent) increased from 1991.

Populations of American wigeon, green-winged teal, blue winged teal, northern shoveler, northern pintail, canvasback and scaup were the same as last year.

The overall population of black ducks, which is measured by midwinter surveys in the states of the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways, was 277,800 this year compared with 281,200 last year and close to the average for the most recent 10 years (300,600).

Black ducks in the Atlantic Flyway, which typically accounts for 70 percent of the ducks counted during the midwinter survey, numbered 201,600 and were down 13 percent from last year and 10 percent below the 10-year average.

In the Mississippi Flyway, black ducks were up 57 percent over last year.

Fall flight forecasts are made for Pacific, Central, Mississippi and Atlantic flyways, and only the Atlantic forecast shows a significant change for this year, plus 13 percent.

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