Duck Hunting Forum banner

The decline of 2 species of divers

2099 Views 11 Replies 11 Participants Last post by  Pete-pec
Ducks declining at worrisome rates
Two diving ducks have begun to mysteriously vanish from the vast continental store of breeding, wintering and migrating waterfowl
By Alanna Mitchell
Toronto Globe and Mail

For centuries, likely millennia, the ducks of North America have followed the same ritual, wintering in the warm southern parts of the continent and breeding in the cool north.

Their numbers dip and crest, but every spring and fall, millions upon millions of ducks can be counted on to take to the skies and fly from one end of North America to the other, a phenomenon unmatched on any other continent.

But now there's a glitch in the pattern. Two types of diving ducks, scaups (both greater and lesser varieties) and scoters (the white-winged, surf and black varieties), have begun mysteriously vanishing from the vast continental store of breeding, wintering and migrating waterfowl.

Scaup numbers have dropped by 41 percent - to 3.5 million from 6.3 million - from the long-term averages that have characterized the birds since waterfowl biologists began yearly counts in 1955. The population is dropping by about 150,000 a year.

Scoter numbers are down 58 percent, to about 700,000 from 1.8 million. In each case, this is the lowest number ever recorded. And the numbers of both scaups and scoters continue to fall, an anomaly in the world of waterfowl.

The only other duck to suffer large declines is the prairie's pintails. But it's no mystery. They are starving from years of drought.

The decline of the scaups and scoters has biologists baffled. Scientists held an emergency meeting on the scaup situation in 1999 and came up with a long list of research questions, many of which have sparked intensive studies. It made them realize they don't have a clue why these birds are dying off - or, therefore, how to save them. They even fear extinction.

And what if the scaups and scoters disappear altogether? That, too, is an unknown, said Stuart Slattery, a wildlife ecologist with Ducks Unlimited Canada. If the ducks are critical to whatever ecosystem they are in, the effects could be far-ranging and dire, causing other extinctions.

Scientists have found that the center of the mystery is in Canada's part of the western boreal forest, the scraggly northern lands of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, as well as vast tracts of the northern territories.

The wetlands of this relatively pristine landscape are where the majority of scaups and scoters arrive in the spring to breed, lay eggs and nest. Other, smaller populations reproduce in the boreal forest of Alaska. But these are stable.

The early research on scaups, made difficult by the fact that the nests are in remote boreal bogs and are far apart from one another, has found that the females have become thin and feeble and are not breeding properly. This affects the structure of the scaup population as a whole and is probably driving the declines.

The twin declines of scaup and scoter contain deeper mysteries, though. Scoters are sea ducks while scaups are drawn to freshwater. While they breed in the same Canadian western boreal forest, they winter in vastly different parts of the continent.

To Slattery, the answer to the riddle of the disappearing ducks could lie in one of three places: where the ducks winter, where they travel or where they breed. The only certainty is that the effects show up in the boreal forest as the ducks are trying to reproduce.

A likely suspect is toxins, which they could pick up as they winter in the south, or as they migrate back to the northern nesting grounds, or as they encounter them all over North America and deposit them in the boreal forests, where they affect breeding mothers and their young.

Other causes might be renewed oil and gas exploration in the western boreal forest, which could affect the ducks in an unknown way, or global warming in general, or lack of food as they migrate.

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service
See less See more
1 - 12 of 12 Posts
thats extremely unfortunate. i love my diver hunting. hopefully they will find the problem and fix it. they know the problem of pintail.with no way to fix it. thats what i am afraid of on the scaup and scoter too.
I've been duck hunting only for about 4 years now, I have NEVER seen a Scaup while hunting, never. I live and hunt in SW Missouri and I also hunt in SE Kansas. The only one I've seen was two days ago. I was driving west out of Galena Kansas and saw a Scaup drake and hen on an acre size farm pond.
we get them all the time down here only we call them bluebills. THey will decoy by the hundreds. It's amazing. I have noticed no declince down here near the bottom of the MS flyway.
I've seen them by the thousands here in Central FL. Seen a few stragglers up in the panhandle. I hope they make a come back nationally.

"Ducks?? Who cares about those things, we need another shopping mall or outlet. Maybe some condos."
we see thousands of scaup down where i hunt. however, they did drop the limit from 4 birds down to 3 this season. :thumbsdown:
we see thousands down here as well...along with redheads.
I have only been waterfowl hunting since I moved to VA, but I have had the pleasure the last two years to try my luck at divers. We had the bluebills so thick last year in 15 -20 minutes we would have our 3 per person limit. We actually videoed a couple hunts. After watching the videos you couldn't believe you were the ones hunting in the middle of it.

They have/going to change the limit to 2 birds per day here in VA. Although its disappointing I want to enjoy that kind of hunting for years to come.

It certainly can't help the birds are being exposed to all the pollutants in the water we hunt in. I remember reading an article last year about male smallmouth bass in the upper Potomac River, in Maryland and West Virginia that had formed both female and male sex organs. Now I'm no damn rocket scientist but if the fish are having problems it only makes sense other wildlife would see direct affects from the same pollutants.

As much as I want to go out and bust up them 'bills this year, I want to make sure we are doing right for the scaup population.

But that is one dumb ass's opinion. And you know what they say about opinions... they are like ********, everyone has one and they all stink
See less See more
I have a theory on the Scaup and other divers of North America, and their decline. Zebra Mucles! Bluebills have definately declined here in the north and the one diver that is showing some increase in population is the Ringneck. The question is; are there fewer Zebra Muscles in the southern states like Texas and Florida and are the Ringnecks learning to adapt to this invasive creature? I know I don't need to explain to anyone who lives near the Great Lakes what kind of devistation they are causing. There has been a strong decline in Alewives and Yellow Perch as well. Again this is a theory of mine, but I feel there is a link to the decline of some of our aboriginal species. Any feedback from the experts or from some of you boys in the south will be appreciated. I know that animals in general have a habit of adapting to their changing enviroment. A great example of this is the Canada Goose, they barely migrate around here anymore, but global warming is a subject in itself. Pete
See less See more
Used to get blue bill's all the time in Iowa, but in the last 15 year's you don't see them as much. Pete-pec you might be onto something with the zebra mussell. I to have noticed a rise in the ringneck population. This spring they were every where in my area. Alway's a good sign to see more duck's!!!
I think Peter-Pec IS on to something.....and I'll add a thought or two!

Zebra mussels have a HUGE capacity for siphon feeding....they have made the waters of lake Erie from a silty mess to a clear lake. Add up years and years of polutants, and you can see why the possiblilty exsists that this is the culprit.....I'm told that the bluebill diet is roughly 50/50 animal/plant matter; if this is the case, than it is easy to see why these birds are more affected by this than, say, redheads or canvasbacks. If they are eating Zebra mussels, and they are concentrating toxins, it shouldn't be a difficult study to do here in the great lakes area.

In addition, I think that our low water levels here in the great lakes may have an additional impact as well. For several years now, the great lakes water levels have been down by several FEET! One need only look at some of the seawalls around here to get an idea of the sever water drop. With this drop, areas that the birds normally wouldn't/couldn't feed in are now available. If the birds are sifting in areas were animal and plant matter have had additional time to ingest toxins, it stands to reason that they (the bluebills) would get a higher dose of these toxins much sooner than if they were feeding and depleting the food source of a traditional area. In additon to toxic mussels, I also think that they are now ingesting lead shot from 30-40-50 years ago that has come to rest in the mud. They couldnt get to it years ago because of the depth of the water, but now that water levels are lower, the birds can sift in these areas and are picking up the old lead shot.

Any biologists out there? I think it might be an interesting study to check for lead shot in the gizzards of migrating bluebills in the Great Lakes areas, as well as serum lead levels in the blood. I'm willing to bet that the eggs laid by the birds are thin shelled as well, another sign of lead poisioning. The birds sound like they have mild (thin, feeble) to moderate cases of lead poisoning. With the addtion of toxins from the zebra mussels, it is a cumulative effect.

This would explain the decline in scoters as well.

As far as the 'rest of the story', perch populations are being decimated by other invaders other than the zebra mussel: the roundheaded gobi, the eurasian Ruffe, ect. Cormorant populations have been allowed to skyrocket and no controls put into effect (how about a season on these fish killers.....they certainly aren't in any danger of extinction! :pissed: ); in addition to those problems, we also have problems with eurasian millfoil, the spiny water flea, purple loosestrife, the sea lamprey, ect, ect, ect.
Why?......because we don't regulate the dumping of balast from ships coming from Europe, that's why! :pissed:
See less See more
Good post 16 gauge! Alot of useful information. I like the thought on the ducks ability to get to lead shot that it wasn't able to many years ago. This may be the actual link all-to-gether. I also heard rumor of an actual Cormorant season if things don't shape up on the Perch population!
1 - 12 of 12 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.