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Spring duck populations decline in Minnesota (2003-06-24)
Breeding duck populations declined while Canada goose populations were similar
to last year, according to results from the Minnesota Department of Natural
Resource's annual waterfowl surveys.

"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, DNR Wetland Wildlife
Populations and Research Group leader. "Last year, there were many ducks counted
in Minnesota that were still moving north during our May survey. The late spring
had delayed the 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," Lawrence said.

May pond numbers were down 4 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 knew 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, Minnesota DNR goose specialist.

"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 the duck season length and bag limit for this fall.
 
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