2014 Status of Waterfowl Breeding Populations
According to the May 2014 waterfowl surveys flown by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Pilot Biologists, the duck breeding population in South Dakota was estimated at 4.1 million, 9 percent below last year's estimate and 68% above the long-term average (LTA) of 2.4 million. Pond counts in South Dakota this year were just over 774,000, 56% above the LTA. South Dakota GFP Waterfowl Biologist Rocco Murano notes that "duck production should be good across South Dakota in 2014 as wetland conditions across the state are favorable. However, it takes more than water on the landscape to produce ducks and the conversion grassland to cropland and over the past several years will have a negative impact on all ground nesting birds.
The resident population of giant Canada geese declined to 175,000 from the peak of 270,000 in 2011. Production of giant Canada geese in South Dakota should be average in 2014. Production of the Western Prairie Population of interior Canada geese that winter along the Missouri River was normal in 2014 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 good to excellent. This means that recruitment of young for snow geese, Ross's geese, white-fronted geese, and small Canada geese will be good 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 cover 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 a record 49.2 million birds in 2014, up 8% from last year's estimate and 33% above the LTA. It's noteworthy that the eastern Dakotas held 8.7 million ducks, second only to southern Saskatchewan 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.
Northern pintails remain below their LTA at 3.2 million while scaup have approached their LTA of 5 million birds. Canvasbacks, what many duck hunters consider the "king of the ducks" were similar to the 2013 estimate at 700,000 in 2014. Of special interest to duck hunters is the status of mallards fall flight index. 2014’s fall flight estimate for mid continent mallards is 13.4 million, hopefully providing lots of hatch year birds for hunters this fall. According to Murano "the number of mid continent mallards in the traditional survey area and the number of ponds across Prairie Canada determines whether the duck hunting packages across the Central Flyway ".
Based on this year's survey results of 10.9 million mid-continent mallards and 4.6 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. Murano added “2014 is shaping up to be a great year for waterfowling.”
With a record duck breeding population estimate and good wetland conditions I am hopeful for a good season.” "Now is the “good old days” of waterfowling and a great time to get youth or inexperienced duck hunters out to enjoy South Dakotas duck hunter heritage.