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Paynesville Press - July 2, 2003

Survey indicates duck numbers down, goose stable

Breeding duck populations declined while Canada goose populations were similar to last year, according to results from the annual waterfowl surveys by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

"Numbers were lower than last year for most duck species in the state, in part due to the early spring this year," said Jeff Lawrence, wetland wildlife populations and research group leader for the DNR. "Last year, there were many ducks counted in Minnesota that were still moving north during our May survey. The late spring had delayed migration."

Each year in May, a DNR waterfowl biologist and conservation officer pilot use a low-flying airplane to count waterfowl and wetlands along set routes. To correct for birds missed by the air crew, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ground crew counts waterfowl along a portion of the routes. The survey was designed to estimate breeding duck numbers in the 40 percent of Minnesota that includes much of the best duck breeding habitat.

The mallard breeding population in Minnesota this spring was estimated at 281,000, which is 23 percent less than last year. "This was the first year since 1991 that mallard populations in Minnesota have been below 300,000, but populations remain 29 percent above the average since the current waterfowl survey began in 1968," said Lawrence.

May pond numbers were down four percent from last year and down 12 percent from the 10-year average. "Overall, while we expected lower duck populations this year, the magnitude of the decline was greater than expected, especially given that pond counts were similar to the previous year," Lawrence said.

Blue-winged teal numbers decreased 55 percent from last year's near-record high numbers and were 15 percent below the long-term average. "The decline to 193,000 was not unexpected," Lawrence said. "We know that many of the blue-winged teal in the state last year were also late migrants."

However, this year's count was higher than the five years prior to last year's high count.

Combined populations of other ducks, such as wood ducks and ring-necked ducks, decreased 34 percent to 248,000 but remained 44 percent above the long-term average.

Canada geese
This was the third year that the DNR conducted a helicopter survey of nesting Canada geese in April and early May. The estimate of 304,000 geese was slightly lower than last year's 335,000, but still exceeded statewide population objectives, according to Steve Maxson, goose specialist for the DNR.

"Conditions were dry throughout most of the state during late April and early May when we flew the survey, and geese were shifting to the better habitats," noted Maxson.

A DNR biologist and helicopter pilot count Canada geese on 150 quarter-section (160-acre) plots randomly located in Minnesota's three broad ecoregions: prairie, transition, and forest.

The number of breeding waterfowl in Minnesota is estimated each year as part of an annual inventory of North American breeding waterfowl.

"Data on breeding duck populations from Canada and other states is not yet available, but preliminary reports suggest generally good conditions in the Dakotas, and much better conditions and duck numbers in prairie Canada than we have seen in the past few years," Lawrence said.

Mallard population estimates from Minnesota will be combined with estimates from other North American breeding areas, along with a measure of habitat conditions, to determine duck season length and bag limits for the fall.

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