LITTLE ROCK – All right, Arkansas duck hunters, we have good news and bad news for you. The good news may outweigh the bad news.
The annual report on breeding ground surveys by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is highlighted by the good news of duck numbers up, especially mallards. But the bad news is that ponds in the breeding grounds up north have declined.
Hunters may anticipate the upcoming duck hunting season to be another 60 days, 6 ducks a day structure. This is not guaranteed, but it is probable when the Fish and Wildlife Service passes along its parameters in late July for the individual states to set seasons and daily limits.
Arkansas’s waterfowl hunting seasons will be set by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission at its August meeting.
The new USFWS report, “Trends in Duck Breeding Populations, 1955-2012,” estimates duck populations at a record high. Biologists’ estimate of 48.6 million is notably higher than the 45.6 million birds estimated last year and 43 percent above the long-term average.
For waterfowl managers, that long-term average carries more weight than the individual species numbers of each year.
Here are the species population estimates from the breeding grounds of the northern Midwest and the Canadian prairie provinces:
Mallard estimated numbers are 10.6 million – a 15 percent increase over 2011 and a 39 percent increase over the long-term average of 7.6 million.
Gadwall count is 10 percent above the 2011 estimate and 96 percent above the long-term average.
American wigeon count increased 3 percent from 2011 but remains 17 percent below the long-term average.
Numbers of green-winged teal and blue-winged teal were 3.5 million and 9.2 million, which were 20 percent and 3 percent above their 2011 numbers respectively. Both species continue to remain well above their long-term averages by 74 percent and 94 percent, respectively.
The count for northern shovelers is 5 million, which is 8 percent above 2011, and 111 percent above their long-term average.
Northern pintails are at 3.5 million which is 22 percent below the 2011 estimate and 14 percent below the long-term average.
Redhead numbers were was unchanged from last year but 89 percent above the long-term average.
Canvasback count was 800,000, which was 10 percent above last year’s estimate and 33 percent above the long-term average.
The combined lesser and greater scaup estimate was 5.2 million, which was 21 percent above the 2011 estimate and 4 percent above the long-term average.
Habitat conditions observed over the survey areas were found to be average to below-average in moisture, especially in the southern portions due primarily to a mild winter and an early spring. Spring precipitation did improve habitat conditions in some areas, particularly portions of prairie Canada, but may have occurred after surveys were conducted and many nesting waterfowl had already settled. The bad news is continued long-term loss of critical waterfowl nesting habitat in many parts of the prairie pothole region, including loss of needed grassland nesting habitat and pothole wetlands.
The total pond count for prairie Canada and United States combined has dropped 32 percent, from an estimated 8.1 million ponds last year to 5.5 million this year.