Minnesota’ s 2010 breeding duck and goose populations are similar to last year, according to the results of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) spring waterfowl survey.
The state’s estimated breeding duck population was 531,000 compared with last year’s estimate of 541,000. This year’s estimate is 15 percent less than the long-term average of 624,000 breeding ducks. The Canada goose population was estimated at 311,000, similar to last year’s estimate of 285,000. The number of breeding Canada geese has been relatively stable the past 10 years.
Minnesota’s spring breeding population of waterfowl is influenced each year by the quantity and quality of the state’s wetlands as well as habitat conditions in states and provinces to the north and west. Data on breeding duck numbers across other regions of North America is not yet available, but preliminary reports suggest good to excellent wetland habitat conditions in the Dakotas and portions of southern Canada.
Although breeding duck numbers were similar to last year, the goal in the DNR’s statewide Duck Recovery Plan is to attract and hold a breeding population of 1 million ducks. “This will require that the DNR and all of our conservation partners stay focused on the long-term effort to restore the additional habitat that is needed to accomplish this goal,” said Dennis Simon, DNR wildlife section chief.
Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist, said this year’s survey results showed no significant changes from last year. The main indices of breeding duck abundance – mallard, blue-winged teal, and total ducks – were statistically the same. The index of wetland habitat abundance was very similar to last year.
This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 242,000, which was unchanged from last year’s estimate of 236,000 breeding mallards, 15 percent below the recent 10-year average and 8 percent above the long-term average.
The blue-winged teal population was 132,000 this year compared with 135,000 in 2009.
Blue-winged teal numbers remained 36 percent below the recent 10-year average and 40 percent below the long-term average.
“Blue-winged teal numbers have been below average for the past six years in Minnesota,” Cordts said. “Continental teal populations are doing very well, so it may relate to conditions specific to Minnesota.”
Breeding blue-wings tend to respond favorably to areas with an abundance of very shallow, seasonally flooded wetlands. “We don’t have sufficient amounts of this type of wetland habitat remaining in the prairie regions of Minnesota,” Cordts said.
The combined populations of other ducks, such as wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads, was 157,000, which is 12 percent below the long-term average.
The estimated number of wetlands (Types II-V) was 270,000, down 15 percent from last year but near the long-term average of 250,000.
“Wetland habitat conditions were actually somewhat dry at the beginning of the survey in early May, but improved with rain events beginning in mid-May,” Cordts said. “While this is usually favorable for summer brood-rearing conditions, the drier conditions in April likely did not attract additional breeding ducks to settle in Minnesota.”
The same waterfowl survey has been conducted each May since 1968 to provide an annual index of breeding duck abundance. The survey is funded by hunting license dollars. The survey covers about 40 percent of the state that includes much of the best remaining duck breeding habitat in Minnesota. A DNR waterfowl biologist and pilot count all waterfowl and wetlands along established survey routes by flying low-level aerial surveys from a fixed-wing plane. The survey is timed to begin in early May to coincide with peak nesting activity of mallards. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides ground crews that also count waterfowl along some of the same survey routes. This data is used to correct for birds not seen by the aerial crew.