Late each spring, waterfowl biologists flock to Canada and the northern prairies of the United States to gauge whether ducks and geese are fastidiously going about the business of procreation.
While federal and state assessments of breeding ground conditions are not yet available, field biologists for Ducks Unlimited report the best general habitat conditions for waterfowl in the past 20 years.
After several years of drought ended two years ago in the prairie pothole regions -- the pockets of wetlands that extend from the north central United States into Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta -- snow melt and spring rains again have "basins brimming with water" this year.
The prairie pothole region is the prime nesting area for most North American waterfowl, although the Atlantic Flyway population of Canada geese breeds east of Hudson Bay.
Estimates of breeding success for those Canada geese, the majority of which winter in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, are not yet available. DNR biologist William Harvey, head of Maryland's migratory bird program, flew the annual survey of Canada goose nesting habitat on the Ungava Peninsula this month, but was in transit home late last week.
The Atlantic Flyway population of Canada geese has declined over the past decade, and a moratorium on hunting was declared throughout the flyway last season. The moratorium is expected to continue this fall.
DU biologists report that in Quebec a cool spring delayed overall nesting efforts, but that conditions generally are good and waterfowl habitat is abundant. In the maritime provinces, conditions were cool and wet, and broods of Canada geese and black ducks were sighted by mid-May.
According to waterfowl biologists, the amount of water is critical to breeding habitat and breeding success, and the breeding season is the most important segment of the waterfowl life cycle.
If habitat conditions remain favorable through late summer, the fall migration of waterfowl could increase for the third successive year. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the migrations of the past two years have been the best in two decades.
The following is DU's assessment of breeding areas:
North central United States -- Small wetlands and upland nesting cover are abundant, and breeding populations are above record levels of 1995 in prairie pothole regions of North and South Dakota. Conditions are excellent in Montana, good to excellent in Minnesota and fair to good in Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Western United States -- Conditions are excellent throughout California's central valley and Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Utah.
British Columbia -- Excellent in intermountain valleys and along the coast.
Alberta -- Wetland basins filled across southern province. Mallard and pintail populations have increased significantly.
Saskatchewan -- Conditions wet enough to delay planting; strong breeding in prairie potholes and parklands.
Manitoba -- Wetland basins brimming with water and another strong breeding year is expected.
Ontario -- Habitat conditions are good in the north and excellent in the south.
Pub Date: 6/30/96