Spring Duck Index Similar to Last Year, Water Conditions Down

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Spring Duck Index Similar to Last Year, Water Conditions DownThe North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s annual spring breeding duck survey showed an index of more than 3.4 million birds, unchanged from last year and 60 percent above the long-term average.

Gadwall (+47 percent) and northern shovelers (+20 percent) showed significant increases, while pintails (-36 percent), mallards (-29 percent), wigeon (-27 percent) and green-winged teal (-14 percent) were down. All diving ducks – canvasback, redhead, scaup and ruddy ducks – showed increases from last year.

The large number of ducks tallied during the survey is abnormal considering the extremely poor water conditions across the state, said Mike Johnson, game management section leader. “Part of this is because we have been carrying a duck population that is well above average since the mid 1990s,” he said.

This year, a number of these ducks continued to stay in North Dakota despite greatly reduced water conditions. With the dry conditions, many ducks were either waiting for improved water conditions before committing to nesting, or were still in the process of settling.

However, despite the relatively good breeding duck population index, Johnson is not expecting a good-year in terms of production. “The lone drake indices were well below average and the correction for hens on nests was the third lowest on record,” he added. “What this tells us is there were a lot of ducks sitting around and not actively breeding.”

The spring water index was down 70 percent from 2007 and 57 percent below the long-term average. The wetland index is the 10th lowest in survey history (61 years) and the lowest since 1992.

Johnson cautions that the water index is based on basins with water, and does not necessarily represent the amount of water contained in wetlands. “Conditions are actually worse than indicated,” Johnson said. “Wetlands with even a trace of water contribute as much to the index as those that are full. Our survey crews indicated that many wet basins held very little water at the time of the survey.”

The July brood survey will provide a better idea of duck production, and a better insight into what to expect this fall. “Observations to date indicate that production may be reduced in much of the state due to dry conditions and reduced wetland availability for brood production,” Johnson added. “However, fall weather always has a big impact on the success of the hunting season.”