Results of the 2022 North American Waterfowl Spring Breeding Survey

After waterfowl breeding surveys were locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, biologists and aviators from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service were able to return last May. (Photo by: Robert Thiemann/

Back in the saddle

When they traveled familiar survey routes through the various parts of the North American duck breeding grounds, they found much of what they had hoped for after drought and an absence of reliable data for two year. And this news, conveyed in the publication of the 2022 USFWS State of the Waterfowl Report showed that indeed, North American duck populations have declined slightly from historic highs recorded only a few years ago.

Nonetheless, things aren’t as bleak as they might have been given the two years of missing data and the severe 2021 drought that affected large parts of the so-called duck factory in the northern Great Plains and southern Canada. And there are also plenty of bright spots to look at individually, with several species trending strongly in the right direction.

dry and cracked mud in a corn field during drought
Several parts of central North America were affected by drought in 2021. (Photo by: Md. Hasanuzzaman Himel/

recent news

This news fell today, Friday August 19th, just weeks before the opening of the first teal seasons in a number of locations across the North American continent. And not far behind will be waterfowl campaigns in Canada and the northern United States.

With all of this looming in a few weeks, the USFWS The report showed that the total number of breeding waterfowl in regularly surveyed parts of the North American Duck Factory was estimated at 34.2 million birds in 2022, down 12% from the 38.9 million estimated by biologists when last surveyed in 2019. While the declining number was not unexpected, it was 4% below the long-term average (LTA) between 1955 and 2019.

In numbers

In a breakdown by species, this year’s waterfowl breeding population survey shows that breeding mallards had 7.223 million green heads in 2022, down from 9.423 million in 2019, a 23% decline over the past three years and a 9% deviation from the LTA.

The blue-winged teal, which begins to grow south through the flyways before the first September teal seasons, is next in terms of the largest overall numbers. In terms of breeding numbers, bluewings showed 6.485 million birds in 2022. This is actually a 19% increase from the 2019 figure of 5.427 million and a 27% increase from the LTA .

blue beaks (greater and lesser scaup) counted 3.599 million birds in this year’s breeding population survey, virtually unchanged from 2019’s 3.590 million birds. Still, with bluebills struggling against historical standards, the species is 28% below the LTA.

Drake Bluebill flying over water
Bluebills (Greater and Lesser Scaup) are one of the few waterfowl species to have been reported with numbers well below their long-term average population. (Photo by: Ray Hennessy/

Other Waterfowl Species Studied

Gadwalls to 2.665 million in 2022, compared to 3.258 million in 2019; this year’s numbers are down 18% from 2019, but up 30% from the LTA.

american duck to 2.127 million in 2022, compared to 2.832 million in 2019; this year’s numbers are down 25% from 2019 and 19% from the LTA.

Green-winged teal stand at 2.170 million birds this year in the breeding population survey, compared to 3.178 million in 2019; this year’s numbers are down 32% from 2019, but are exactly in line with the long-term average.

Shovelers had a breeding population of 3.041 million birds in 2022, down from 3.649 million breeding birds in 2019; this year’s numbers are 17% lower than the number of tiger nut reproductions three years ago, but are up 15% from the LTA.

Pintails had 1.783 million birds this year in the survey, compared to 2.268 million pintails in 2019; this year’s numbers are down 21% from 2019 and down 54% from the LTA.

Redheads having 0.991 million breeders this year, compared to 0.732 million breeding redheads in 2019; those numbers are bright spots in this year’s survey, up 35% from 2019 and 36% from the LTA.

Rear canvas be at 0.585 million breeding boxes in 2022, down from the 2019 breeding population count of 0.651 million; those numbers are down 10% from three years ago and down 1% from the LTA.

While waterfowl managers and hunting industry veterans like Wildfowl Editor Skip Knowles are still digesting today’s breaking news, there are definitely some reasons to smile.

“Overall numbers might be a bit down from 2019, but there are definitely some bright spots this year, like big increases in rufous and blue-winged teal, and gadwall still well above average. long-term,” Knowles said. “We’ve always said here at WILDFOWL that these island-nesting gaddies are the duck of the future! Given the brutality and depth of the 2021 drought, we could be in much worse shape. We’re all looking forward to go hunting this fall and we expect to kill a lot of ducks and we are not biologists but we hope that the slight drop in mallard numbers will turn out to be within the survey’s margin of error and less impactful than expected, given the late nesting chances and the rainfall we had at key times.

waterfowl hunter in goose decoys at sunrise
While there may be bumps and jolts in waterfowl populations, the opportunity to hunt them will not be uncommon this season. (Photo by: Jeff Phillips)

Looking forward

Biologists sing a similar tune to Knowles, noting that there is grim news in the trending down numbers, but also some bright spots to be encouraged.

“Although the beneficial effects of timely precipitation in late winter and spring were evident by the high number of ponds in the eastern Prairies, the total estimate of ducks in the traditional survey area was lowest in nearly 20 years,” said Dr. Steve Adair, the Bismarck, ND-based chief scientist for Ducks Unlimited, in their press release.

“The drop in duck numbers reflects the impact of low production caused by several years of prairie drought, including 2021,” Adair added, “which has been one of the most severe and widespread in nearly 4 decades But the survey revealed positives for duck populations and provided optimism for good production this summer and continued favorable pond conditions in the fall and winter. »

delta waterfowlBiologists also pointed to increased water and potential for late hatches this summer and a good carryover into fall and winter, paving the way for a better spring of production in 2023. These hopefuls are powered by the best of this year. precipitation trends, which revealed the May pond count showed 5.45 million ponds, about 4% above the LTA and 9% above the 2019 figure.

“Given widespread dry conditions last year across much of the grassland where ducks breed, it is not surprising that breeding population numbers are lower than they have been for most of the years. 2010,” Dr. Chris Nicolai, waterfowl scientist for Delta Waterfowl, said in the Bismarck, ND-based conservation organization’s press release. “The good news is that much of the prairie, especially the Dakotas, Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan, has been very wet this spring. Duck production is expected to be good to excellent in the eastern portion of the prairie and in northern areas as well.

Even with the decline in spring spawner numbers, Nicolai would rate this year’s breeding effort as strong. And that hopefully means hunters will be mostly happy this fall when they return to their duck blinds, throw down the decoys and stare up at the skies with a whiny retriever.

“Prairie-nesting duck species such as blue-winged teals, gadwalls, mallards and rufous should really benefit from the wet conditions in eastern Dakota and Manitoba,” Nicolai said in another statement. release from Delta. “Hunters should see a lot more young ducks compared to last year. Remember we hunt the fall flight, not just the breeding population. Years with high duck production – as this year should be – generally offer the best hunting seasons.

Whatever the breeding numbers this year, and whatever the effects on the fall flight this fall, there is once again plenty of incentive to do whatever can be done to support the cause of waterfowl and wetland conservation, from buying the excise tax pay new equipment to buying an extra duck stamp to introduce someone new to the sport of waterfowl hunting, and of course, by attending your favorite local conservation fundraising dinner and spending some George Washingtons.

Because in wet and dry years, the work of waterfowl conservation never stops, global pandemic or not.