So you’ve been thinking about starting your own Duck Dynasty? It’s a wonderful time to be a waterfowler.
Turns out, water equals waterfowl. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its 2013 duck numbers last week, which indicate a wet winter and a wet spring across the northern breeding grounds have led to an escalation in duck numbers again this year—for the third year in a row. While overall numbers are just slightly down from last year—about 3 million total, from 48.6 to 45.6—they are still far above historical norms, 33 percent above the long term averages since 1955, according to Fish and Wildlife Service.
Old frosty-top is the star this year, with the American wigeon up 23 percent from last year with an estimated 2.6 million birds. Mallards are holding strong at 10.4 million (10.6 million greenheads last year), and only bluebill are singing the blues, with scaup down 20 percent overall. Canvasback are up slightly, and still above averages since the ’50s, but remain far below long-term historical norms and management objectives.
But all is not just ducky. The good news is slightly misleading in one regard: Waterfowl habitat is being destroyed at an ever-increasing rate due to the spike in corn prices, particularly in the prairie pothole region.
“We must maintain our focus on protecting and restoring important habitat across the birds’ range in order to see these kinds of numbers in future wet years,” said Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall.
As corn has escalated in price, wetlands, swamps, even hardwood groves and boreal areas critical to duck production are being drained, burned, bulldozed and planted in. New hybrid corn is being developed that can grow in places it traditionally could not. —Skip Knowles
Check out a breakdown of the 2013 populations by species; numbers courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
- Mallard populations are down slightly from 2012—though it's only a slight decrease, down 2 percent from last year. However, greenheads are still well above the long-term average, up 36 percent.
2012 Population: 10.602 million
2013 Population: 10.372 million
Percent change from 2012: -2 percent
Percent change from Long-Term Average: +36 percent
—Photo by Charlie Long