In early January, aerial survey teams of pilots and biologists from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) made visual estimates of the ducks, geese and swans along most of the state’s Chesapeake Bay, Potomac River. and Atlantic Ocean coastal shorelines. This year, the teams counted about 563,800 waterfowl, lower than the 627,000 birds observed in 2020, and below the most recent five-year average of 718,600 birds. The 2021 Mid-Winter Survey was not flown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Winter distribution of waterfowl is influenced by many factors,” Maryland DNR Wildlife and Heritage Director Paul Peditto said. “Global weather patterns, food availability, habitat quality, prevalence of ice, and the population status of each species all play a role in how many birds we count and where we count them.”
Overall, dabbling ducks increased in number this year compared to 2020, as did pintails and green-winged teal, which likely reflected the mild fall temperatures. Likewise, generally mild winter weather likely led to fewer diving ducks being observed than in the 2020 survey.
Hunter reports suggest that late arriving winter weather moved more scaup, canvasbacks, and redheads into the Chesapeake Bay region after the survey was completed. Biologists counted more Canada geese – 361,100 – than the 2020 survey, which counted 327,200. DNR considers this a hopeful sign that flyway wide harvest restrictions for Atlantic Population (AP) geese are working.
The Midwinter Waterfowl Survey has been conducted annually since the early 1960s, and covers most of the tidal shorelines and near-shore waterfowl habitat in Maryland. These numbers are not population estimates, but offer an annual “snapshot” view of how waterfowl use of important nearshore habitats changes over time.