The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s 71st annual spring breeding duck survey conducted in May showed an index of 2.8 million birds, down 5 percent from last year.
Migratory game bird supervisor Mike Szymanski said even though the index is below 3 million for the second consecutive year, it still stands 16 percent above the long-term average (1948-2017) and is the 25th highest on record.
“Duck numbers are still hanging on, but are certainly better in some local areas,” Szymanski said.
Survey results indicate only shovelers (up 10 percent) and wigeon (up 7 percent) increased from their 2017 estimates. Mallards were stable (down 1 percent), while green-winged teal showed the largest decrease (down 20 percent). All other ducks were 3-17 percent below last year’s numbers. However, most species, with the exception of pintails, blue-winged teal and ruddy ducks, were well-above the 70-year average.
An interesting observation during the survey, Szymanski noted, was the lack of breeding effort for Canada geese. “We can attribute that to the late spring and overall dry conditions,” he said.
The number of temporary and seasonal wetlands was down from last year, as figures show the spring water index is down 34 percent.
“That was mostly felt in the shallow waters,” Szymanski said. “Similar to last year, there were a lot of wetlands that weren’t in good shape and were close to drying up.”
However, Szymanski said rainfall over the last couple weeks has improved wetland conditions since the survey. “If rain continues over the next month, wetland conditions in some regions will be conducive to raising broods,” he said.
Szymanski said concerns about habitat remain, as overall conditions weren’t very good with expiring Conservation Reserve Program acres, and habitat conversion to other uses.
The water index is based on basins with water, and does not necessarily represent the amount of water contained in wetlands or the type of wetlands represented.
The July brood survey provides a better idea of duck production and insight into expectations for this fall, Szymanski said, though hunting success is also influenced by bird movements before and during hunting seasons, and weather patterns during the fall migration.