Waterfowl hunters are filling their waders with tears of joy at the latest waterfowl population forecasts from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, as preliminary counts indicate duck and goose populations on northern breeding grounds are up eleven percent from last year.
From this story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
The Fish and Wildlife Service says breeding duck numbers across U.S. prairies and in Canada and Alaska rose 11 percent from a year ago, to 45.6 million birds. Last year’s figure was 40.8 million. The 2011 count is 35 percent higher than the long-term average, which dates to the 1950s. Total ponds counted in prairie Canada and in the north-central U.S. were 8.1 million, 22 percent higher than the 6.7 million ponds counted in 2010. Duck production and therefore the size of the fall flight usually vary with pond abundance.
According to the service: Estimated mallard abundance was 9.2 million birds, a nine percent increase from the 2010 estimate of 8.4 million birds. Blue-winged teal estimated abundance was a record 8.9 million, which was 41 percent above the 2010 estimate of 6.3 million, and 91 percent above the long-term average. The northern pintail estimate of 4.4 million was 26 percent above the 2010 estimate of 3.5 million, and similar to the long-term average Estimated abundance of American wigeon was 14 percent below the 2010 estimate and 20 percent below the long-term average. The combined (lesser and greater) scaup estimate of 4.3 million was similar to that of 2010 and 15 percent below the long-term average of 5.1 million. The canvasback estimate of 700,000 was similar to the 2010 estimate and 21 percent above the long-term average.
Good news, especially for pintail and canvasback numbers, but good duck numbers do not a good season make: weather and local conditions will play a major factor in determining waterfowling success, and many of the areas those ducks will be flying over and into this fall are experiencing severe drought. Larger lakes and reservoirs will most likely be thick with ducks, but those of us who hunt potholes, stock tanks, playas and other small waters in drought-stricken areas may want to learn a rain dance if we have any hope of shooting any of those 46 million birds.
Based on current conditions, how is your waterfowl season shaping up? Good or grim?