Duck numbers remain strong
By MIKE CORN
It's the proverbial good news, bad news scenario -- in reverse.
Waterfowl numbers in the traditional survey area stand at about 46 million birds, down slightly over last year.
But the good news is the numbers are still about 33 percent higher than the long-term average, according to surveys recently released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Canadian Wildlife services.
That all means Kansas hunters likely will be able to count on a banner waterfowl season, if there's enough water to attract and hold the birds.
Even without water, Kansas hunters bagged an estimated 387,330 ducks last year, up from 366,000 in the 2011-12 season. More than 400,000 ducks were killed in the 2010-11 season.
Numbers for the ever-popular mallard stood at 10 million birds. That's on par with 2012, but 36 percent higher than the long term average.
It's the same for most other ducks, other than northern pintails and scaup, both of which declined this year and continue to fall from the long-term average.
Popular ducks among Kansas hunters include both the blue- and green-winged teal.
The green-winged teal stood at slightly more than 3 million birds, according to the FWS survey. While that's down 12 percent, it's still up 51 percent compared to the long-term.
Blue-winged teal are down 16 percent, but are up 60 percent from the long-term average of 1955 to 2012.
The spring's breeding season was delayed across most of the survey area, but habitat conditions during the count were "improved or similar to last year in many areas due to average to above-average annual precipitation."
Conditions were good in parts of Canada, the northeast U.S. and portions of Montana and the Dakotas.
The total pond estimate for the entire area was 6.9 million, 24 percent more than the 2012 estimate and 5.1 percent more than the long-term average.
According to the survey, much of the U.S. prairies had "average winter precipitation and received record-breaking snowfall in April. Despite the moisture, habitats in this region were generally rated fair to poor... ."
Duck breeding success is dependent on wetland and upland habitat conditions, according to Ducks Unlimited.
"This spring saw abundant moisture in much of the heart of North America's most important duck breeding areas," DU chief scientist Dale Humburg said in a report announcing the survey. "That bodes well for duck breeding success this summer and hopefully, for hunting this fall. But we remain concerned with continuing loss of nesting habitat in these areas. Because ducks need both water and upland habitats to successfully raise their young, the ongoing loss of grasslands and wetlands across the prairie pothole region will continue to impact the number of ducks in the fall flight.
"We must maintain our focus on protecting and restoring important habitat across the birds' range in order to see these kinds of numbers in future wet years," DU CEO Dale Hall said.