Early Breeding Grounds Surveys Show Duck Numbers Are Up

Early Breeding Grounds Surveys Show Duck Numbers Are Up

Arkansas Game & Fish Commission
Arkansas Game & Fish Commission

LITTLE ROCK, AR – -(AmmoLand.com)- There is some fresh news for Arkansas duck hunters, and it is good.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released its preliminary report on mid-continent breeding ducks and habitats, based on surveys conducted in May and early June. Total duck populations were estimated at 42 million breeding ducks. This estimate is a 13 percent increase over last year’s estimate of 37.3 million birds and is 25 percent above the 1955-2008 long-term average.

A key component for waterfowl managers is that pond count.

The number of ponds in the Canadian prairie provinces and in the upper Midwest of the Untied States is 45 percent more this year than last year and 31 percent more than the 1955-2008 long-term average, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission waterfowl biologist Luke Naylor says. “Of particular interest for Arkansas duck hunters is the dramatic increase in pond counts in the Dakotas, an area that makes a substantial contribution to this state’s mallard harvest,” he said. “Unfortunately, this good news must be considered in light of continued loss of the grassland habitat that has made this region so valuable for nesting ducks and in turn Arkansas duck hunters,” Naylor stated.

According to the FWS, wet and dry cycles, where water levels fluctuate over time, are vital components of maintaining wetland productivity. This is especially important for the prairie potholes of the northern plains. While hunters and ducks rejoice with the return of water, droughts are important in rejuvenating wetlands. As evident by this year, dedication to conservation, even through dry cycles, can pay off when water returns to the prairies and wetlands again teem with breeding waterfowl and other wildlife.

Habitat is the vital element for ducks as it is for all wildlife. The number of ponds is up, the number of ducks is up, but some parts of the Midwest and the South, Arkansas especially, were hard hit by heavy rains and flooding in the spring. In Arkansas, rice and soybean crops are far behind schedule, and these are used extensively by migrating ducks.

The FWS issued a caution note. “Improvement in water conditions is only part of the story. Water without nesting cover does little to improve the duck outlook. As good as the news is this week, waterfowl and prairie habitats continue to face greater long-term threats. Grassland habitat is under siege on many fronts and is being lost at alarming rates. The U.S. prairie pothole region has lost more than 1.2 million Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres since 2007 (another 3.1 million acres will expire by 2012), and more than 3.3 million acres of native prairie are projected to be lost during the next five years.”

The FWS surveys 10 species of ducks in its population counts. Eight of the 10 showed increases this year, and the two that didn’t showed very slight drops.

  • Mallards, THE duck to most Arkansas waterfowl hunters, increased 10 percent over last year and 13 percent over the long-term average.
  • Gadwalls increased 12 percent over last year and 73 percent over the long-term average.
    Wigeons decreased 1 percent over last year and 5 percent over the long-term average.
  • Green-winged teal increased 16 percent over last year and 79 percent over the long-term average.
  • Blue-winged teal increased 11 percent over last year and 60 percent over the long-term average.
  • Shovelers increased 25 percent over last year and 92 percent over the long-term average.
  • Pintails increased 23 percent over last year but decreased 20 percent over the long-term average.
  • Redheads decreased 1 percent over last year but are up 62 percent over the long-term average.
  • Canvasbacks increased 35 percent over last year and 16 percent over the long-term average.
  • Scaup increased 12 percent over last year but are down 18 percent over the long-term average.

Population estimates for black ducks, ring-necked ducks, bufflehead, goldeneyes, and mergansers are similar to last year as well as their 1990-2008 averages.

Hunting season dates and bag limits for Arkansas will be proposed by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Wildlife Management staff at the AGFC’s July 16 meeting in Little Rock. The commissioners will set the seasons and bag limits at their Aug. 20 meeting in Little Rock.

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The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will be present with several educational programs. For the hunting enthusiasts, drawings for elk permits will be held each hour starting at noon on Saturday.