Waterfowl hunters have plenty to cheer about in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s annual report on duck breeding populations that was released late last week. Surveys conducted in May and early June show an 8-percent increase in the number of breeding ducks over last year.
USFWS estimates the population of breeding ducks at 49.2 million, up from last year’s estimate of 45.6 million. The total is 43 percent higher than the 1955-2013 long-term average and is the third-straight year of good breeding conditions for many species, including some of the most-popular among hunters.
The 2014-15 waterfowl season should be a great one for hunters who count on American widgeon for much of their bag. Widgeon numbers are 18 percent above 2013. Mallards were the most-numerous ducks surveyed, at 10.9 million, followed by blue-winged teal at 8.5 million, northern shovelors at 5.3 million, scaup at 4.6 million, gadwall at 3.8 million, green-winged teal at 3.4 million, pintails at 3.2 million, widgeon at 3.1 million, redheads at 1.3 million, canvasbacks at 700,000 and black ducks at 619,000.
The estimated populations are at or above long-term averages for the species, except for pintails.
The main determining factor for duck breeding success is wetland and upland habitat conditions in the key breeding landscapes of the prairies and the boreal forest. Conditions observed across the U.S. and Canadian survey areas during the 2014 breeding population survey were improved or similar to last year. Total pond counts for the U.S. and Canada combined showed 7.2 million ponds, which is similar to the 2013 estimate and 40 percent above the long-term average.