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Spring Duck Index Remains High 061505
The number of breeding ducks in North Dakota continues to remain high, according to the state Game and Fish Department recent spring breeding duck survey.

The 58th annual spring survey, conducted May 9-15, showed an index of more than 4.1 million birds, 4 percent lower than last year but still 100 percent above the 1948-2004 average, according to Mike Johnson, migratory game bird management supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Duck indices were up from 2004 for green-winged teal (63 percent), canvasback (24 percent), ruddy ducks (10 percent), and a category labeled "other" species comprised mostly of ring-necked ducks (25 percent). Indices for all other species were unchanged or below 2004. The most significant decreases were for gadwall (14 percent) and mallards (10 percent).

All species except pintail remained above the 1948-2004 average. The index for mallards was up 121 percent from the long-term average while gadwalls were up 191 percent. Pintails, which have declined to low numbers continentally, were down 19 percent.

The survey is conducted by biologists driving more than 1,800 miles on eight routes spread across the state running from Canada to South Dakota. Observers count all ducks and water areas within 220 yards of the roadway, Johnson said. "This large sample gives indices from which we can compare year-to-year changes and the long-term trends of habitat conditions and waterfowl numbers."

While the 2005 water index was down from last year, it still remained 21 percent above the 1948-2004 average. Despite what the water indices show, observers noted that water conditions were fairly poor in many areas. "This is because we count water areas, not the amount of water contained in wetlands," Johnson said. "Many seasonal wetlands contained only minimal water and water levels in most semi-permanent wetlands were well below the high water period that began in 1993."

However, Johnson mentioned, rains which began during the survey period have continued across the state, with some regions experiencing considerable rainfall that has restored wetland levels. "While this increase in water was too late to significantly affect breeding duck distribution, it will certainly contribute to the potential for renesting by failed hens and improve brood survival," Johnson said.

The July brood survey will provide a better idea of duck production, and a better insight into what to expect this fall, Johnson said. "Our observations to date indicate that production should be above average," he added. "Despite the large populations of ducks and prospects for a good production year, fall weather always has a big impact on the success of the hunting season."
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