The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued its 2016 report on the waterfowl breeding population and it is projected to be another stellar migration and hunting season. As reported here earlier in a preview of the USFWS report, Delta Waterfowl described the 2016 fall duck migration as almost as big as last year’s all-time record of 49.52 million ducks; this was 43 percent above the long-term average (LTA). This was due to less-than-ideal breeding conditions in the vital Prairie Pothole Region of northcentral United States and central Canada.
This year the USFWS has estimated the fall flight to be 48.36 million ducks, about one million below the 2015 figure but still 38 percent above the LTA. Mallards led the way with another increase in numbers over last year, showing why they are the most abundant and most adaptable ducks in the world. Following are the projected numbers for the various species, including the increase/decrease over last year and how it relates to the long-term average.
Mallards increased one percent to 11.79 million, 51 percent above the LTA. Green-winged teal grew by five percent to 4.28 million, which is more than twice the LTA. Wigeon continued a strong trend, increasing 12 percent to 3.41 million, 31 percent above the LTA. Shovelers declined by 10 percent, but still check in at 3.97 million, 56 percent above the LTA.
The news was not as good for pintails, which dropped for a fifth-straight year. Pintail numbers declined by 14 percent to 2.62 million, 34 percent below the LTA. Blue-winged teal numbers fell 22 percent to 6.69 million, but remain 34 percent above the LTA. Gadwalls missed the early May breeding count (conditions too dry) but bred well later when wetter conditions arrived; gadwalls should be similar to last year, 3.80 million and third highest in history.
Among diving ducks, scaup increased 14 percent to 4.99 million, which is right at the LTA. Canvasbacks declined by three percent to 736,000, but remain 26 percent above the LTA. Redheads, which have remained near record breeding numbers for the past five years, jumped eight percent to 1.29 million.
What do the 2016 waterfowlers have to look forward to? The near-record populations of ducks for the past five years had good but reduced breeding conditions this year; so, the fall flight will have fewer young, easy-to-decoy ducks – read gullible – and a higher proportion of savvy, mature ducks. Better practice your calling, your long shots and perfect your camouflage.