Duck numbers up, Canada goose numbers down since last year

Population counts are up for several species of ducks that breed in Minnesota, according to the results of the annual Minnesota Department of Natural Resources spring waterfowl surveys. 

“Despite fairly dry conditions, duck numbers seemed good across all species,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist.

This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 243,000, which is 18 percent above last year’s estimate of 206,000 breeding mallards, unchanged from the recent 10-year average and 7 percent above the long-term average measured since 1968.

The blue-winged teal population is 317,000 this year, 88 percent above last year’s estimate and 50 percent above the long-term average.

The combined populations of other ducks such as ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads is 208,000, which is 39 percent higher than last year and 17 percent above the long-term average.

The estimate of total duck abundance (excluding scaup) is 768,000, which is 47 percent higher than last year and 25 percent above the long-term average.

The estimated number of wetlands is 221,000, unchanged from last year, and 13 percent below the long-term average. Wetland numbers can vary greatly based on annual precipitation.

The survey is used to estimate the number of breeding ducks or breeding geese that nest in the state rather than simply migrate through. In addition to the counts by the DNR, the continental waterfowl population estimates will be released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later this summer and provide an indicator of what hunters can expect this fall.

DNR survey methods
The same waterfowl survey has been done each year since 1968 to provide an annual index of breeding duck abundance. The survey covers 40 percent of Minnesota and includes much of the state’s best remaining duck breeding habitat.

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 who also count waterfowl along some of the same survey routes. These data are then used to correct for birds not seen by the aerial crew.

Canada geese
This year’s Canada goose population was estimated at 202,000 geese, lower than last year’s estimate of 250,000 geese. An additional 17,500 breeding Canada geese are estimated to be in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

“Even with lower numbers, goose production seems to be very good with lots of young geese across the state, following the early spring this year and early nesting effort by Canada geese,” Cordts said.

The number of breeding Canada geese in the state is estimated via a helicopter survey of nesting Canada geese in April. The survey includes most of the state except for the Twin Cities area and counts Canada geese on randomly selected plots located in prairie, transition and forested areas.

The 2016 Minnesota waterfowl report is available at the waterfowl hunting page.