Annual spring breeding waterfowl index surveys indicated average numbers of breeding mallards, lower numbers of blue-winged teal and other ducks, and large numbers of Canada geese in Minnesota, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The survey, designed specifically for mallards, estimates duck numbers for just a portion of the states. The survey areas estimated breeding mallard population index was 225,000, which is similar to the long-term average of 226,000 breeding mallards, but 21 percent lower than 2011 and 17 percent lower than the 10-year average.
The blue-winged teal index was 109,000 this year compared with 214,000 in 2011 and 50 percent lower than the long-term average of 219,000 blue-winged teal.
The survey results for other ducks combined, such as wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads, was 135,000, which is 29 percent lower than last year and 24 percent below the long-term average.
The estimated number of wetlands (Types II-V) decreased 37 percent from last year and was 10 percent below the long-term average.
"It was a very unusual spring for weather, wetland conditions and breeding waterfowl," said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. "We had record warm temperatures and early ice-out by late March, so ducks moved into the state early. But wetland conditions were extremely dry at that time."
Conditions have improved dramatically since then, but much of the precipitation to date came after ducks had already begun nesting or moved through the state, Cordts said. Those, and other factors, make it more difficult than usual to interpret this year’s population indices.
The same waterfowl survey has been conducted each May since 1968 to provide an annual index of breeding duck abundance. The survey covers 40 percent of the state, which includes much of the best remaining duck breeding habitat in Minnesota.
A DNR waterfowl biologist and pilot count all waterfowl and wetlands along established survey routes by flying low-level aerial surveys from a fixed-wing plane. The survey is timed to begin in early May to coincide with peak nesting activity of mallards. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides ground crews that also count waterfowl along some of the same survey routes. This data is then used to correct for birds not seen by the aerial crew.
The goal in the DNR’s Duck Recovery Plan is to attract and hold a breeding population of 1 million ducks.
"Although the survey does not estimate total duck populations in the state, the decline in this year’s spring duck population index indicates we’re likely well below our goal," said Dennis Simon, DNR Wildlife Section chief. "The DNR remains committed to our long-term habitat goals of improving breeding and migration habitat for waterfowl in the state."
The Canada goose population is estimated by a separate helicopter survey conducted in April. This year’s estimated goose population was 434,000, which was higher than last year’s estimate of 370,000.
"Because of the early spring, Canada geese nested early," Cordts said. "Production appears to be excellent, with large numbers of goose broods across the state. This has resulted in increased reports of agricultural damage by geese this year."
The Canada goose hunting season established by the DNR in recent years is open for 107 days, the maximum number of days allowed.
"We may have to explore additional options in the future in order to address the large Canada goose population," Cordts said.
DNR will announce this fall’s waterfowl hunting regulations in early August.