The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s annual spring breeding duck survey showed an index of more than 4.1 million birds, down slightly (-9 percent) from last year but 85 percent above the long-term average (1948-2010). The 2011 index is the ninth highest on record.
Wigeon (+15 percent), blue-winged teal (+12 percent) and pintails (+4 percent and the highest since 1970) were the only ducks to show an increase from last year. However, all species except scaup were well above the long-term average.
Shovelers were down 13 percent from last year’s record high. Mallards were down 4 percent, but had the sixth highest count on record. Indices for all other species were below that of 2010, with the most significant decreases for ruddy ducks (-62 percent), lesser scaup (-58 percent) and redhead (-33 percent).
“Redheads and ruddy ducks were at record highs last year, and scaup numbers were also well-above average,” said Mike Johnson, game management section leader. “So their decline was not surprising.”
The spring water index was up 31 percent from 2010 and 128 percent above the long-term average. It was the second highest in survey history and the highest since 1999. The water index is based on basins with water, and does not necessarily represent the amount of water contained in wetlands.
“Water conditions were exceptional throughout the state, with abundant snow cover and significant spring rains filling most basins,” Johnson said.
Additionally, reports indicate that all of the Prairie Pothole Region in the United States and Canada (from Iowa to Alberta) has excellent water conditions this year. “To our knowledge this is an unprecedented occurrence, at least since surveys have been conducted,” Johnson said.
However, nesting cover in North Dakota continues to decline. During the survey, Johnson noted many large tracts of grassland and Conservation Reserve Program land that had been converted to cropland since last year, or were in the process of being plowed. “North Dakota currently has about 2.6 million acres of CRP, which is down about 22 percent from 2007,” Johnson added. “Projections are that nearly 400,000 acres will be lost in 2011, and an additional 1 million acres will be lost in 2012-13. The loss of critical nesting cover will be disastrous for breeding ducks and hunting opportunities in the future.”
The July brood survey will provide a better idea of duck production and insight into expectations for this fall. Observations to date indicate prospects for high production across the state due to excellent water conditions and increased wetland availability for brood production.
Original ND DNR Article