Doug Leier: Breeding Duck Survey Celebrates 75 Years | Outside

DOUG LEIER ND Game and Fish Department

For wildlife science and surveys, a longer history and additional data for a population index creates a similar growth in confidence in those numbers. The more we investigate, similar confidence is gained for biologists and wildlife managers.

We are not comparing a census count of each individual. The index compares figures from past counts, in past years over time. This allows trend data to be used to examine the maintenance, loss or growth of a population. Then, by comparing habitat and other factors and conditions, we are able to get a broader overview of the status of the species.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s 75th Annual Spring Breeding Duck Survey, conducted in May, showed an index of nearly 3.4 million birds, up 16% from last year. Migratory game bird supervisor Mike Szymanski said the index was the 23rd highest on record and was 38% above the long-term (1948-2021) average.

Indices for most individual species except green-winged teal, gadwall, wigeon and blue-winged teal increased from 2021. Mallards increased by 58% compared to 2021 and represented the 25th highest number on record. Ruddy duck index increased by 157%, shoveler and pintail increased by 126% and 108%, respectively, and other increases ranged from 4% for scaup to 69% for duck. canvas back. Decreases from the 2021 index were observed for Green-winged Teal (minus 42%), Gadwall (minus 36%), Eurasian Wigeon (minus 10%) and Blue-winged Teal (minus 4%).

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“It’s important to note that some of our increases in statewide species numbers may not reflect larger-scale population trends, particularly for pintails,” Szymanski said. “The abnormally wet conditions in the state likely contain a higher percentage of breeding pintails than normal. We are coming out of a very dry year that has resulted in low range-wide breeding for many species.

Doug Leier


The number of temporary and seasonal wetlands was significantly higher than last year as figures show the Spring Water Index rose by 616%, the largest single-year increase ever for the ‘investigation. The water index is based on basins with water and does not necessarily represent the amount of water contained in the wetlands or the type of wetlands represented. Steady rainfall and cool weather preceding the survey left a lot of water on the landscape in ditches and intermittent streams.

“As well as being our 75th consecutive survey year, this was an interesting survey as we’ve been back and forth between wet and dry conditions over the past two years,” Szymanski said. “We actually had our second highest wetland index in the state, which is largely made up of water that dries up pretty quickly. But ponds that are important for brood-rearing habitat have also rebounded well.

“A lot can change between May and the hunting season, so we’ll have some additional insights into our July Brood Index and our September Wetland Count,” he added. “But duck production should be a bit better this year than last year due to a bigger breeding effort. However, we continue to lose grass in upland nesting sites which will decrease the breeding potential of ducks in the state. Despite the expected low production of Canada geese this year due to harsh conditions in April, we had record numbers of geese on the breeding grounds, so hunting opportunities for these birds should be quite good again this year.

Doug Leier is a biologist with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.