Canada goose numbers down, but overall waterfowl up Black ducks, canvasbacks show rebound in survey

February 06, 1997|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Each January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state departments of natural resources conduct the Midwinter Waterfowl Survey across the country as part of a continuing, long-term study of migratory populations of ducks, geese and swans.

In Maryland this year, according to statistics released by the Department of Natural Resources, the state's waterfowl count is up more than 27,000 over last year.

However, according to biologists, the gain is largely attributable to increases in duck populations and Canada goose numbers were significantly lower.

William F. Harvey, leader of DNR's waterfowl program, said yesterday that the comparatively warm winter may be responsible for greater numbers of greenwing teal, gadwall and widgeon. In colder years, such as 1996, those species migrate farther south, where the weather is more favorable.

"But the black duck numbers are up a bit, and that is encouraging," said Harvey. "And canvasback numbers are a lot better than they were."

Black ducks have steadily increased from 18,800 in 1993 to 25,300 this year. Canvasbacks, too, have shown a steady increase over the past five winters, rising from 37,700 to 51,400, the highest levels since the 1950s.

But Canada geese, which had a thriving hunting season on the Eastern Shore until a moratorium was declared two seasons ago, declined from 295,000 last year to 217,700.

Harvey said it is possible that some number of Canada geese stopped short of Maryland because of warm weather and therefore were not counted in the aerial survey, which ran from Jan. 6-14.

"But I couldn't even guess what those numbers could be," he said.

At the Atlantic Flyway meetings at the end of this month, Harvey said, data from surveys flown in other states at the time of the Maryland survey will be made available to biologists.

Canada geese have had poor reproduction for several years, and hunting seasons were closed throughout the flyway to allow the species' breeding population to rebuild.

The severe weather last winter on the breeding grounds of Ungava Peninsula in northern Quebec led to a late spring thaw and resulted in yet another poor year of gosling production.

While Canada goose numbers declined, the state's snow geese population more than doubled, rising from 45,900 last year to 114,400.

"A good question is: Why are snow geese thriving while nesting farther north and Canada geese not doing so well?" said Harvey.

One possible answer, Harvey said, is that snow geese nest on islands surrounded by salt water, where the weather tends to be milder than on a large land mass like the Ungava Peninsula.

Also, he said, snow geese, being more isolated at breeding time, "are less susceptible to subsistence hunting" by human populations in the area.

The Canada goose nesting grounds are easily accessible to Cree and Inuit communities on the Ungava Peninsula and the staging areas are hunted each spring.

Pub Date: 2/06/97

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