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Spring duck counts decline (2005-07-07)

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Waterfowl biologists found declines in breeding waterfowl populations but more spring ponds across Minnesota in May's annual aerial surveys according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources(DNR).

Both duck and pond numbers were similar to the long-term average. Overall duck numbers were down 37 percent while pond numbers were up 22 percent from 2004.

"Though duck numbers are very close to the state's long-term average since surveys began in 1968, a look at the last 10 years tells a different story," said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. "Total duck abundance, excluding scaup, is down 24 percent from the 10-year average. In fact, this year's duck numbers are the lowest since the drought years of the late 1980s."

The number of breeding waterfowl in Minnesota is estimated each year as part of an annual inventory of North American breeding waterfowl. Mallard population estimates from Minnesota will be combined with estimates from other North American breeding areas and used to determine the duck season length and bag limit for the 2005-06 waterfowl hunting season.

The mallard breeding population was 238,500, down 36 percent from 2004 but similar to the long-term average of 223,368. Blue-winged teal were down 45 percent from 2004 to 194,125 and 15 percent below the long-term average. Mallards and blue-winged teal comprise about two-thirds of the state's duck population. Temporary wetlands increased 22 percent but remained 58 percent below the long-term average. The survey does not measure the quality of wetlands nor does it track changes in amounts of grassland habitat, which also play a critical role in duck nesting success and brood survival.

Declines in survey numbers, particularly blue-winged teal were expected this year, Cordts said. "The 2004 blue-winged teal survey numbers were probably higher than the actual local population. Last year's weather kept many migrant blue-winged teal and other late nesting ducks in the state during the survey period. This year, most of those ducks had migrated through the state by the time the survey was completed."

In addition, poor weather resulted in 70 percent of this year's survey being flown after May 15, when some migrants had likely moved out of the state, Cordts said.

Each May, a DNR waterfowl biologist and conservation officer pilot estimate breeding duck populations by flying randomly selected survey routes at low elevations using fixed-wing aircraft. The survey is designed to estimate breeding duck populations across about 40 percent of Minnesota, which comprises most of the better duck breeding habitat. Crews from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service count waterfowl from the ground along a portion of the routes to correct for birds missed during the aerial survey.

The Mississippi Flyway Council meeting will be July 19-24 in Mississippi. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will announce its federal waterfowl regulation framework on July 29.

"In the weeks ahead our agency will have a better understanding of the continental duck population and the likely direction the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take in setting the waterfowl hunting framework," said Cordts.


Minnesota's Canada goose population was 338,000 slightly lower but statistically unchanged from 2004, according to Steve Maxson, DNR goose specialist.

The DNR conducted the fifth annual statewide helicopter survey of breeding geese in April and early May. A DNR biologist and helicopter pilot counted Canada geese on 150 quarter-mile square plots randomly across prairie, transition and forest zones of the state.

"Habitat conditions were generally improved from 2004 throughout most of the state when we flew the survey," Maxson said. "It appears that production should be good this year and the statewide population appears to be stable or increasing slightly."

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