Survey pegs small drop in continental duck numbers

Few things rankle me more than a report that comes out on a Friday afternoon after deadline, but right on schedule, that’s what happened today when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released results from the spring North American Duck Survey.

Mallard numbers were estimated at 10.4 million, down slightly from 10.6 million last year but 36 percent higher than the long-term average. (N.D. Game and Fish Department photo)

The report, officially known as the “2013 Report on Trends in Duck Breeding Populations,” estimates this year’s continental duck population at 45.6 million. That’s down 6 percent from last year’s estimate of 48.6 million birds but still 33 percent higher than the long-term average.

A few highlights from the news release:

The survey pegged mallard estimates at 10.4 million birds, similar to the 2012 estimate of 10.6 million birds and 36 percent above the long-term average.

Blue-winged teal numbers were estimated at 7.7 million, 16 percent below the 2012 estimate of 9.2 million but 60 percent higher than the long-term average. Similarly, the green-winged teal estimate of 3.1 million is 12 percent below last year but still 51 percent higher than the long-term average.

The northern pintail estimate of 3.3 million is similar to the 2012 estimate of 3.5 million and 17 percent below the long-term average.

Estimated abundance of American wigeon is 2.6 million, 23 percent above the 2012 estimate and similar to the long-term average.

The survey estimated combined lesser and greater scaup numbers at 4.2 million, a decline of 20 percent from last year and 17 percent lower than the long-term average of 5 million. The canvasback estimate of 787,000 is similar to the 2012 estimate and 37 percent above the long-term average.

Despite a delayed spring throughout most of the survey area, habitat conditions were generally improved or similar to last year, thanks to above-average precipitation. Most of the Canadian portions of the survey area were rated as good to excellent, in contrast to 2012, when drier conditions existed across northern Alberta and Saskatchewan. Although the U.S. prairies received record snowfall in April, habitat conditions were still rated only fair to poor, similar to last year. The total pond estimate (prairie Canada and the north-central United States combined) is 6.9 million, 24 percent higher than the 2012 estimate of 5.5 million ponds and 35 percent above the long-term average.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service conduct the survey, sampling more than 2 million square miles of waterfowl habitat across Alaska, the north-central and northeastern United States and south-central, eastern and northern Canada. Information is not included from surveys conducted by state or provincial agencies.

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