Continental duck numbers are down slightly from last year but statistically unchanged, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in its “2016 Trends in Duck Breeding Populations” report.
Total duck numbers in the North American survey area were estimated at 48.4 million, down from last year’s estimate of 49.5 million and 38 percent above the long-term average from 1955 to 2015.
The estimate is based on surveys the Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service conducted in May and early June.
Wetland and upland habitat conditions are key drivers of duck breeding success, and conditions this spring generally were poorer than last year. The total pond estimate for the U.S. and Canada combined was 5 million, down 21 percent from 6.3 million in 2013 but similar to the long-term average of 5.2 million.
Scott Yaich, chief scientist for Ducks Unlimited, said the breeding population estimate was encouraging, given the dry conditions. At the same time, the numbers weren’t a surprise because pond counts were near long-term averages, and hunting and winter mortality account for a relatively small part of annual mortality.
“What’s not reflected in the report is that there was fairly significant improvement in habitat conditions after the surveys were completed,” Yaich said. “In some key production areas, heavy June and July rains greatly improved wetland conditions. This could benefit brood rearing and the success of late nesting species, as well as give a boost to overall production through re-nesting by early nesting species.”
Waterfowl seasons in North Dakota and Minnesota are set to open Sept. 24. In North Dakota, nonresidents can begin hunting ducks Oct. 1.
North Dakota hunters can take six ducks per day with the following restrictions: five mallards—of which two can be hens—three wood ducks, three scaup, two redheads, two pintails and two canvasbacks. Hunters also can take an additional two blue-winged teal from Sept. 24 through Oct. 9. The possession limit is three times the daily limit.
In Minnesota, hunters can take six ducks per day, and individual species limits are identical to last year.
“All signs point to this being a great year for duck and goose hunting,” said Steve Cordts, waterfowl specialist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji. “Many hunters look forward to the duck hunting opener all year. It’s a time to get into the marsh and spend time with family and friends.”
The early Canada goose season in Minnesota opens Sept. 3 and continues through Sept. 18, with a daily bag limit of five statewide. The regular season opens in conjunction with duck season with a daily limit of three dark geese, a designation that includes Canada geese, white-fronted geese and brant.
Minnesota’s youth waterfowl day is Sept. 10, and the sandhill crane season in northwest Minnesota opens Sept. 10 and continues through Oct. 16. North Dakota’s youth waterfowl season is Sept. 17-18.
More info: mndnr.gov, gf.nd.gov.
Report banded birds
Hunters are reminded to check migratory birds they shoot this fall for bands and report their findings.
Information from birds with a federal band should be reported online at reportband.gov. In addition, the federal Bird Banding Laboratory in Maryland has a new, mobile-friendly reporting site that will aid hunters in reporting bands with mobile devices. Those without access to the Internet can report bands by calling (800) 327-2263.
Hunters should include the band number, date and location of each recovery. After the band information is processed, hunters can request a certificate of appreciation, and information about the bird will be returned in an email. Hunters can keep all bands they recover.
Information received from hunters is critical for management of migratory game birds.