Dakota Trails - North Dakota Outdoor Sports

Duck Brood Numbers Up from Last Year

State Game and Fish Department biologists expect a fall duck flight from North Dakota that is up 12 percent from last year and the 20th highest since 1965, based on observations from the annual mid-July waterfowl production survey.

This year’s duck brood index was up 37 percent from last year, and showed 5.11 broods per square mile, an increase of 39 percent. Average brood size is unchanged at 6.76 ducklings per brood.

Migratory game bird management supervisor Mike Szymanski said conditions were pretty dry after the May breeding duck survey, which indicated duck numbers and wetlands were down. “But most of the state received abundant rainfall from late May through early July, which was encouraging for the summer survey,” he said.

The July survey showed duck production in the northern tier of the state was very good, and Szymanski mentioned even areas further south were still quite favorable. “We have been seeing good numbers of broods since the summer survey, and especially lots of young birds, which indicates renesting efforts were very strong,” Szymanski said.

Mallards, gadwall and blue-winged teal are the top three duck species that nest in North Dakota, and together they accounted for about 75 percent of the broods observed in the summer survey. Mallard brood numbers were up about 22 percent from last year, gadwalls were up about 47 percent, and blue-winged teal broods were up 45 percent. Blue-winged teal are typically the most prevalent breeding duck in North Dakota. In addition, pintail brood numbers were up 142 percent.

Observers also count water areas during the summer survey, and this year’s water index was up 11 percent from last year. Szymanski said wetlands in the north central were still below average, but other areas were close to or slightly above average.

“Wetland conditions are still on the dry side, as the early summer rains slowed down quite a bit,” he added. “The larger basins are in pretty good shape, and even some of the local smaller basins that were dry this spring were filled from the earlier rainfall. But the small, shallow basins are beginning to show the effects and have the potential to dry up before the hunting season begins.”

Game and Fish biologists will conduct a separate survey in September to assess wetland conditions heading into the waterfowl hunting seasons.

The Game and Fish summer duck brood survey involves 18 routes that cover all sectors of the state, except west and south of the Missouri River. Biologists count and classify duck broods and water areas within 220 yards on each side of the road.

The survey started in the mid-1950s, and all routes used today have been in place since 1965.

Spring Duck Numbers Tallied

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.

2016 North Dakota Pheasant Broods Down

North Dakota’s roadside pheasant survey conducted in late July and August indicates total birds and number of broods are down statewide from 2015.

Aaron Robinson, upland game management supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said the survey shows total pheasants are down 10 percent from last year. In addition, brood observations were down 7 percent, while the average brood size was down 8 percent. The final summary is based on 276 survey runs made along 105 brood routes across North Dakota.

“Compared to last year, our late summer roadside counts indicate pheasant hunters are going to have to work harder to find more pheasants in most parts of the state, with fewer young roosters showing up in the fall population,” Robinson said. “As always, there will be local areas within all four pheasant districts where pheasant numbers will be both better and below what is predicted for the district.”

Statistics from southwestern North Dakota indicate total pheasants were down 21 percent and broods observed down 19 percent from 2015. Observers counted 21 broods and 168 birds per 100 survey miles. The average brood size was 5.5.

Results from the southeast show birds are down 4 percent from last year, and the number of broods up 1 percent. Observers counted eight broods and 62 birds per 100 miles. The average brood size was 5.0.

photoby Craig Birhle, ND Game and Fish

Statistics from the northwest indicated pheasants are up 129 percent from last year, with broods up 161 percent. Observers recorded 12 broods and 93 birds per 100 miles. Average brood size was 6.1.

The northeast district, generally containing secondary pheasant habitat, with much of it lacking good winter cover, showed two broods and 14 birds per 100 miles. Average brood size was 3.9. Number of birds observed remained the same, and the number of broods recorded was up 5 percent.

The 2016 regular pheasant season opens Oct. 8 and continues through Jan. 8, 2017. The two-day youth pheasant hunting weekend, when legally licensed residents and nonresidents ages 15 and younger can hunt statewide, is set for Oct. 1-2.

Spring Upland Game Index Numbers

North Dakota’s spring pheasant population index is up slightly from last year, while sharp-tailed grouse numbers are down slightly, according to recent surveys conducted by State Game and Fish Department biologists.

Aaron Robinson, upland game management supervisor, said the number of pheasant roosters heard on the spring crowing count survey was up just about 2 percent statewide. Numbers in the southeast were down from last year, Robinson said, while “the other regions from west to central were up slightly, but not enough to say there’s a big increase from last year.”

Sharp-tailed grouse counts on spring dancing grounds or leks were down about 6 percent statewide from last year. “We were kind of expecting that,” Robinson added. “We had some dry weather last year and production wasn’t as good.”

While the spring counts provide a good indicator of the number of breeding birds in the two populations, Robinson says it’s primarily early summer weather that influences hunting success in the fall. “You have to have the right conditions to produce a good hatch,” he said. “You don’t want really wet, cold years, and you don’t want dry years. Dry years don’t produce those insects that chicks need to survive those first 10 days.”

Game and Fish biologists will start their summer upland game brood counts in mid-July, and Robinson said that will lead to more precise fall population predictions. “That’s when we really start to understand what our production was for the year.”

Pheasant crowing counts are conducted each spring throughout North Dakota. Observers drive specified 20-mile routes, stopping at predetermined intervals, and counting the number of pheasant roosters heard crowing over a two-minute period during the stop.

Biologists count male sharptails on their dancing grounds in 25 monitoring blocks throughout the state, and numbers within each block are compared from year to year.

Spring Breeding Duck Numbers Tallied

 

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s annual spring breeding duck survey conducted in May showed an index of 3.4 million birds, down 5 percent from last year.

photo by Ed Bry, ND Game and Fish

“The spring migration was well ahead of normal as open fields and warm temperatures allowed early migrants to pass quickly through the state,” said migratory game bird supervisor Mike Szymanski.

Survey results indicated all species, except ruddy ducks (up 19 percent) and gadwall (up 4 percent), decreased from their 2015 estimates, while shovelers remained unchanged. Mallards were down 9 percent, pintails down 17 percent and canvasbacks down 18 percent. However all species, with the exception of pintails and canvasbacks, were above the long-term average (1948-2015).

Szymanski said the number of temporary and seasonal wetlands was substantially lower than last year, with the spring water index down 50 percent.

“However, conditions coming out of May into June were much wetter than what we observed during the week of the survey,” Szymanski added. “Frequent rains have since filled many wetlands that are beneficial for breeding ducks.”

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.

Szymanski said the July brood survey will provide a better idea of duck production and insight into expectations for this fall. “The total breeding duck index is still in the top 20 all time, so there is still a lot of potential for good production this year,” he added. “Hopefully improved wetland conditions since the May survey will carry through into increased wetland availability for duck broods.”