Waterfowl hunters should expect plenty of ducks over their decoys this season – weather permitting – if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's annual report on breeding numbers holds true.

The report said that total population of breeding ducks observed was 48.6 million, up 7 percent over 2011 numbers and 43 percent above the long-term (1955-2010) average. The estimate is a record high.

And they were a bit of a surprise to some biologists, based on the dry weather that plagued North America last fall and was expected to negatively affect breeding conditions.


"Early indications were that the mild and dry conditions across North America this past fall and winter would negatively impact spring pond conditions and allow increases in grassland conversion rates, ultimately impacting nesting efforts this season," said Dale Humburg of Ducks Unlimited.


The habitat survey done by USFWS said below-average moisture decreased breeding-pond habitat by a hefty percentage, but that didn't stop ducks from showing up on the prairies where most of the breeding is done.


Eight of the 10 of the duck species that were surveyed showed increased numbers, led by scaup (up 21 percent) and green-winged teal (up 20 percent). Mallards were up 15 percent, gadwall up 10 percent, widgeon up 3 percent, blue-winged teal up 3 percent, northern shovelers up 8 percent and canvasback up 10 percent. Northern pintails were down 22 percent and redheads were down 6 percent.


Mallard populations exceeded 10 million birds for the first time since 1999, and blue-winged teal and shovelers were at record highs of 9.2 and 5.0 million, respectively.


"As good as the population news is, waterfowl and wetlands habitats continue to face long-term threats," Humburg said. "This year I am reminded again of the dynamic nature of wetlands cycles and what happens when several years of strong reproduction line up with the possible beginnings of a drought cycle."