Duck numbers keep flying high

Canada 150 celebrations aside, there’s another reason to celebrate our country this year: robust duck populations

In the 2017 Trends in Duck Breeding Populations report, blue-winged teal estimates are up by 18% from 2016. ©DUC

Thanks to strong conservation efforts and abundant habitat in Canada, populations of North American ducks and other waterfowl remain at healthy levels.

Total populations were estimated at 47.3 million breeding ducks in the traditional survey area, which is similar to the 2016 estimate of 48.4 million and is 34 per cent above the 1955-2016 long-term average.

These are the results found in the 2017 Trends in Duck Breeding Populations report released by the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). The report summarizes duck populations and habitats, as surveyed on both sides of the border in May and early June.

“This is the fourth highest estimate ever,” says David Howerter, PhD, Ducks Unlimited Canada’s (DUC) director of national conservation operations. “In summary, there are still a ton of ducks in the traditional survey area.

“Canadian landscapes, particularly the key breeding grounds of the Prairies and the boreal forest, play a critical role in maintaining these strong populations.”

Canada’s prairies are scattered with thousands of shallow wetlands that make up some of the most productive waterfowl habitat in North America. The boreal forest is a vast area covered with rivers, lakes and wetlands that attract millions of ducks, geese and swans every year to breed.

Last year, the prairies experienced low precipitation during the winter and early spring. This year, the situation was reversed. Many ponds had lots of water going into last fall and that meant conditions were good for breeding ducks in early spring. However, a dry late spring may have led to lower duckling survival.

Following is a brief summary of the species estimates from the report:

  • Mallard estimates are down 11% from last year but 34% above long-term average (LTA)
  • Gadwall estimates are similar to last year, and 111% above LTA
  • American wigeon estimates are down 19% from last year, but near their LTA
  • Green-winged teal estimates are down slightly from last year, but 70% above LTA
  • Blue-winged teal estimates are up by 18% from last year and 57% above LTA
  • Northern shoveler estimates are similar to last year and 69% above LTA
  • Northern pintail estimates are similar to last year and 27% below LTA
  • Redhead estimates are similar to last year and 55% above LTA
  • Canvasback estimates are similar to last year and 25% above LTA
  • Scaup estimates are down slightly from last year and 13% below LTA

“You could argue that right now, these are the good old days,” says Howerter. But he cautions that while we can expect a fall flight similar to last year, there are no guarantees into the future.

While both regions continue to produce healthy duck populations, threats are growing.

Effective wetland policy is needed across Prairie Canada to address issues like drainage. And growing industrial interests in the boreal forest are beginning to impact this vast and largely pristine area. Climate change means uncertainty for prairie wetlands in the future.

“Even though the numbers are as high as we’ve ever seen them, who knows what they’d actually be like if we hadn’t lost that habitat through drainage,” says Howerter. “We’ve lost so much capacity already.

“That’s why it’s so important that we keep delivering wetland conservation efforts to ensure birds always have a productive place to go.”

By conserving wetlands for the ducks, we’re also contributing to a host of other environmental services. Wetlands are some of the most productive ecosystems in the world. They naturally filter pollutants from water, guard against flooding and drought and store vast amounts of carbon that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere.

Additional information, including the full survey report and species-by-species breakdown can be found on the Ducks Unlimited Inc. website.

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