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Minnesota breeding duck numbers increase

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Minnesota breeding duck numbers increase, Canada goose numbers remain strong (June 17, 2008)

Minnesota’ s breeding mallard and blue-winged teal numbers are higher than last year and the total duck population estimate increased, according to the annual May breeding waterfowl survey results released by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The mallard breeding population was estimated at 298,000, which is 23 percent above last year and identical to the most recent 10-year average. This year’s mallard population estimate is 34 percent above the long-term average of 222,000 breeding mallards.

Blue-winged teal numbers increased 23 percent from last year to 152,000, but remained 32 percent below the long-term average.

“Blue-winged teal counts are always more difficult to interpret than mallard counts because they tend to be more variable,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist.

“Because blue-winged teal nest later than mallards, their spring migration through the state is also later. In many years, we end up counting fair numbers of migrant teal that are going to nest north of Minnesota. With good wetland conditions in the state this year and such a late spring, I would have expected above or well above average blue-winged teal counts, but that wasn’t the case.”

The combined populations of other ducks, such as wood ducks, gadwalls, redheads and ring-necked ducks, increased to 290,000, about 65 percent above the long-term average. This was the third-highest total recorded for their combined populations. Much of the rise was due to record high counts of ring-necked ducks, a common but very late-nesting species in northern Minnesota. Ring-necked duck numbers were up by more than 100,000 ducks from last year.

“This large increase simply reflects the late spring weather conditions and large numbers of migrant ring-necked ducks still present in the state when we flew the survey,” Cordts said. “What was more encouraging was to see small to moderate increases in the numbers of breeding wood ducks and some other of the less common nesting species.”

Minnesota’s estimated breeding duck population increased to 740,000 this year, 51 percent higher than last year and 19 percent above the long-term average. “While we always like to see increased numbers of breeding ducks, these estimates should still be viewed as an index and with a bit of caution,” Cordts said.

Minnesota remains well below the goal of an average breeding population of 1 million ducks, which is outlined in the state duck recovery plan. Much of the actual increase was attributed to the late spring and migrant ring-necked ducks.

“Even so, it’s always encouraging when we see improved wetland habitat conditions and increased numbers of breeding mallards and blue-winged teal from the previous year,” Cordts said.

Wetland habitat conditions are improved from last year and above the long-term average. The estimated number of wetlands (Types II-V) was 325,000 acres, up from 262,000 acres last year.

Cordts noted a few spotty areas of drier conditions in the northwest portion of the survey area, but overall wetland conditions looked good. Increased rainfall in some areas will help ducks during re-nesting and brood rearing.

The breeding duck survey is conducted by a DNR waterfowl biologist and pilot who count all waterfowl and wetlands along certain routes flying low-level aerial surveys. The survey has been flown each May since 1968, with only minor changes to the survey design.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service ground crews also count waterfowl along some of the same survey routes to correct for birds not seen by the aerial crew. The survey was designed to provide an index of breeding duck abundance in about 40 percent of the state containing much of the best remaining duck breeding habitat.

Data on breeding duck populations across other regions of North America is not yet available, but preliminary reports suggest generally fair to good wetland habitat conditions in parklands of Canada, but drier conditions in some prairie areas of Canada and North Dakota.


Since 2001, the DNR has conducted a helicopter survey of nesting Canada geese in April. The survey, which includes most of the state except for the Twin Cities metropolitan area, counts Canada geese on randomly selected plots in prairie, transition and forested areas. This year’s estimate is 277,000 Canada geese, similar to last year’s estimate of 262,000. Canada goose numbers, have averaged slightly more than 300,000 since the survey began.

“While our goose population is still in very good shape, it appears that the breeding population is no longer increasing rapidly and may be beginning to stabilize,” said DNR biologist Dave Rave. “Even with the late spring this year, production should be better than last year.”

Most wildlife managers have reported fair to good numbers of goose broods so far this spring, which should translate into plenty of opportunity for hunters this fall, Rave said.

The full waterfowl report can be viewed at

The DNR will announce waterfowl hunting regulations for this fall in early August.
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