2009 Status of Waterfowl Breeding Populations
According to the May 2009 waterfowl surveys flown by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Pilot Biologists, the duck breeding population in South Dakota was estimated at 4.8 million, above last year's estimate of 3.4 million and 121% above the long-term average (LTA) of 2.2 million. South Dakota's LTA is a data set from 1959-2009. Pond counts in South Dakota this year were 79% above the LTA. South Dakota GFP Waterfowl Biologist Spencer Vaa notes that "duck production should be good across South Dakota in 2009" as most areas of the state received ample precipitation. However, it takes more than water on the landscape to produce ducks and the conversion of about 1 million acres of grassland to cropland over the past several years will have a negative impact on all ground nesting birds.
The resident population of giant Canada geese increased to 166,000 from the most recent 3-year period (2006-2008) of 122,000. Production for these birds will be high in 2009. Production of the Western Prairie Population of interior Canada geese that winter along the Missouri River was normal in 2009 so hunters in SD can expect good hunting for these large birds. For geese that nest in the arctic and sub arctic areas of Canada, along Hudson Bay, Baffin Island, Southampton Island, and the Queen Maud Gulf, production will be well below average due to a very late spring and short summer. This means that recruitment of young for snow geese, Ross's geese, white-fronted geese, and small Canada geese will be well below normal this year. Any experienced goose hunter knows that hunting mostly adult birds can be more difficult than when young birds comprise a good share of the population.
The May Breeding Pair and Habitat Survey covers a vast landscape in North America. It consists of the North central U.S. (MT, SD, ND), and portions of Canada and Alaska. The total duck population estimate from this area was 42 million birds in 2009, up 13% from last year's 37.2 million and 25% above the LTA of 33.5 million. It's noteworthy that the eastern Dakotas held 11.7 million ducks, more than any other region in the traditional survey area. Many species, including blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, gadwall, Northern shoveler, and redheads are significantly above their respective LTA's. Even scaup and Northern pintails rebounded in 2009, although both are still well below their LTA. What many duck hunters consider the "King of the Ducks", the canvasback, increased from fewer than 500,000 in 2008 to 662,000 in 2009.
Of special interest to duck hunters are the status of mallards and the number of ponds in Prairie Canada. According to Vaa "the number of mallards in the traditional survey area and the number of ponds in Prairie Canada determines whether the duck hunting season will be 74, 60, or 39 days long in the Central Flyway". Based on this year's survey results of 8.71 million mid-continent mallards and 3.5 million ponds in Prairie Canada, the optimal choice is the liberal regulatory alternative. In the Central Flyway, this is a 74 day duck hunting season with a 6 bird daily bag. The High Plains zone in western SD gets an additional 23 days for a total of 97 days. "I'm hopeful that we can recruit some new hunters to waterfowl hunting this year and retain most of those who currently hunt", says Vaa.
2009 is shaping up to be an excellent year for duck and goose hunting. Dust off the shotgun, do your part for habitat conservation by buying a federal duck stamp, and partake in South Dakota's bountiful waterfowl hunting heritage.