Wet spring boosts duck breeding in North Dakota; estimate of wetlands sees record increase | State and Region

North Dakota wildlife officials say there is a healthy population of breeding ducks in the state, but that could be the result of an overly wet spring and not necessarily a reflection of long-term trends.

The Game and Fisheries Department’s annual spring breeding duck survey estimated 3.4 million birds, a 16 per cent increase from last year, 38 per cent above the long-term average and the 23rd highest on record. Record keeping dates back to 1948.

The spring survey gives hunters a first glimpse of how duck numbers might change for the fall hunt. Estimates for most species increased from 2021. The estimate for mallards was up 58% from last year and was the 25th highest number on record, for example.

However, “It’s important to note that some of our increases in statewide species numbers may not reflect larger-scale population trends, particularly for pintails,” the supervisor said. Migratory Birds, Mike Szymanski. “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.

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Almost the entire state, including the pothole region of the Prairies, has been mired in drought all past year. Following a severe and extreme drought in 2016, the number of spring breeding ducks fell below 3 million in 2017 and 2018 for only the second and third time in nearly a quarter century.

But last year’s drought was followed by a saturated spring. The number of temporary and seasonal wetlands in North Dakota is up 616% from a year ago — the largest single-year increase on record, according to Game and Fish.

Steady rainfall and cool weather preceding the survey left a lot of water on the landscape in ditches and intermittent streams. And the number of breeding ducks generally tends with wetland conditions.

“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 statewide brood survey by Game and Fish in July will help estimate duck production during the nesting season and give a better idea of ​​what hunters can expect at the nesting season. ‘fall.

“A lot can change between May and hunting season, so we’ll have some additional insights into our July Brood Index and our September Wetland Count,” Szymanski said. “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. »

According to Game and Fish, hunting success in the fall is also influenced by bird movements before and during the season, as well as weather conditions during fall migration. This year’s regular duck hunting season in North Dakota is tentatively set to open Sept. 24.

For more information on the breeding duck survey, go to https://gf.nd.gov/news/5523.

Contact editor Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or [email protected]