Despite lingering winter weather that included record late ice-out in 2013, Minnesota’s breeding duck populations improved from last year, according to the results of the annual Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) spring waterfowl surveys.
The state’s estimated breeding duck population was 683,000 compared with last year’s estimate of 469,000. This year’s estimate is 10 percent above the long-term average of 620,000 breeding ducks.
This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 293,000, 30 percent above last year’s estimate of 225,000 breeding mallards, 14 percent above the recent 10-year average and 30 percent above the long-term average.
The blue-winged teal population was 144,000 compared with 109,000 in 2012 but remained 33 percent below the long-term average of 216,000.
The combined populations of other ducks, such as wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads was 246,000, This was 82 percent higher than last year and 39 percent above the long-term average.
The estimated number of wetlands (Types II-V) was 258,000, up 13 percent from last year, and 2 percent above the long-term average. “Although wetland numbers were average, conditions changed from extremely dry before May 1 to fairly wet by the end of May in most of the state,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist.
“Also, in a normal year, ducks begin arriving back to Minnesota in April or early May to begin the nesting season,” Cordts said. “But with record late ice-out and significant snow cover present in some areas until early May, the spring migration and nesting season were delayed so we had to delay the survey about two weeks.”
The DNR’s waterfowl survey has been conducted each year since 1968 to provide an annual index of breeding duck abundance. The survey covers 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 provide ground crews that also count waterfowl along some of the same survey routes. This data is then used to correct for birds not seen by the aerial crew.
This year’s Canada goose population was estimated at 250,000, which was considerably less than last year’s estimate of 416,000. The number of breeding Canada geese in the state is estimated via a helicopter survey of nesting Canada geese in April. The survey, which includes most of the state except for the Twin Cities metropolitan area, counts Canada geese on randomly selected plots located in prairie, transition and forested areas.
Although this year’s estimate was lower than recent years, much of that change could be the result of the spring weather conditions that may have impacted goose distribution and abundance in the state. Cold temperatures and April snowfall combined with a late ice-out reduced nesting success and effort, reducing the number of goslings. During the past 10 years, the Canada goose population’s average has ranged from 275,000 to 350,000.
“While that should not impact the population in the future, fewer young geese in the early fall usually makes goose hunting more difficult for hunters,” said Paul Telander, DNR wildlife section chief. “The bottom line is our Canada goose population remains higher than we’d like it to be and we’ll continue to maximize hunting opportunities this fall.”
The Minnesota waterfowl report can be viewed online.
The DNR will announce this fall’s waterfowl hunting regulations later this summer.