MEMPHIS -- In its annual report on breeding duck numbers and May habitat conditions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revealed a population decrease in nine of the 10 most common duck species. Estimates suggest that despite an 18 percent increase in pond numbers on the breeding grounds, the total number of breeding ducks declined by 14 percent, falling from 42 million birds in 2000 to 36.1 million in 2001.
"This is an unusual result," said Dr. Bruce Batt, DU's chief biologist. "Normally, we see pond and total duck numbers moving in the same direction. This year's survey is not devastating news, but it is certainly worth keeping an eye on."
Although this year's pond and duck numbers seem incongruous, Batt says there is an explanation. "Even though the pond counts are up overall, it's so much drier than usual on some of the birds' most important breeding grounds, namely western Saskatchewan, Alberta and Montana, that habitat gains in the eastern prairies are overwhelmed by losses further west," explains Batt.
According to Batt, eastern Saskatchewan, southwest Manitoba and the eastern Dakotas have some of this year's best breeding habitat. "The Conservation Reserve Program is very popular in the eastern Dakotas, and where there is CRP, there is good nesting cover for breeding ducks. Combine that with the fact that the area was wet, and you have a recipe for duck production."
When asked what hunters and other wildlife enthusiasts should expect for the fall flight, Batt said, "People in the west will generally have fewer birds in the fall flight and hunters may notice that. People in the east will probably have a similar fall flight to last year, which was good. But as always, weather will be the main factor guiding the fall migration."
Don Young, Executive Vice President of DU, says that waterfowl populations naturally fluctuate, so this dip in numbers should not cause too much concern. "We've enjoyed generally wet prairies and record high waterfowl populations for several years now," says Young. "If we want to sustain those populations, we must work effectively to all areas of the breeding grounds across North America, so that wherever it's wet the birds will have a chance to thrive."
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