Minnesota duck and Canada goose numbers improved from last year

Population counts showed good results for several species of ducks that nest in Minnesota, according to the results of the annual Department of Natural Resources spring waterfowl surveys.

“Mallard, blue-winged teal and Canada goose counts were all improved from last year,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. “The survey is designed for mallards and our breeding mallard population remains above its long-term average.”

This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 295,000, which is 38 percent above last year’s estimate of 214,000 breeding mallards and 30 percent above the long-term average measured each year since 1968.

The blue-winged teal population is 191,000 this year, 20 percent above last year’s estimate and 10 percent below the long-term average.

The combined populations of other ducks such as ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads is 207,000, which is 21 percent lower than last year and 15 percent above the long-term average.

The estimate of total breeding duck abundance (excluding scaup) is 693,000, which is 9 percent higher than last year and 12 percent above the long-term average.

The estimated number of wetlands was 1 percent lower than last year and 4 percent above the long-term average. Wetland numbers can vary greatly based on annual precipitation.

The survey is used to estimate the number of breeding ducks or breeding geese that nest in the state rather than simply migrate through. In addition to the counts by the DNR, the continental waterfowl population estimates will be released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later this summer.

DNR survey methods

The same waterfowl survey has been done each year since 1968 to provide an annual index of breeding duck abundance. The survey covers 40 percent of Minnesota and includes much of the state’s best remaining duck breeding habitat.

A DNR waterfowl biologist and pilot count all waterfowl and wetlands along established survey routes by flying low-level aerial surveys from a fixed-wing plane. The survey is timed to begin in early May to coincide with peak nesting activity of mallards. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides ground crews who also count waterfowl along some of the same survey routes. These data are then used to correct for birds not seen by the aerial crew.

Canada geese

This year’s Canada goose population was estimated at 162,000 geese, similar to last year’s estimate of 152,000 geese and 2 percent above the long-term average.

“We had very unusual weather conditions this spring, with the mid-April blizzard and record late ice-outs. April temperatures were the third coldest on record and May temperatures were the fourth warmest on record,” Cordts said. “This likely impacted geese more than ducks, with an extremely late, and probably reduced, goose hatch.”

The 2018 Minnesota waterfowl report is available at mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl.