Duck hunters rejoice! According to the recently released Trends in Duck Breeding Populations report, the numbers of breeding ducks and ponds are up eight per cent compared with last year.
The numbers are also 43 per cent higher than the long-term average.
Every year since 1955, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, along with the Canadian Wildlife Service, has done a coast-to-coast roundup of habitat conditions and duck numbers.
Danny Kingsberry of Environment Canada's communications branch shed some light on what the numbers mean, specifically for Manitoba.
Q: Is it safe to say breeding numbers and ponds are in very good condition overall?
A: The numbers of breeding ducks and ponds within the Canada/U.S. prairie-parkland area and portions of the western boreal forest are very good and as high as we have seen since the mid-1970s, another period of favourable wetland conditions on the Prairies. Duck populations tend to respond positively to improved water conditions. Research has shown in wet years ducks will make more attempts to nest if they lose their first or subsequent nests to predators than they do in dry years, and improved water conditions in spring usually translate into more good-quality brood-rearing habitat in summer.
Q: All species seem to be doing well in southern Manitoba, with the exception of canvasback. What's going on with them?
A: Canvasback counts were down only four per cent in southern Manitoba from 2013, when canvasback estimates were the third-highest seen since surveys began in 1955. This spring, canvasback numbers in southern Manitoba still exceeded the long-term average by six per cent, and across their nesting range they were 18 per cent above the long-term average.
Q: With these excellent habitat conditions and strong breeding numbers, someone might argue the landscape is in great shape, and we don't need to worry about conserving wetlands at this point. What's your take on this?
A: Much of the Canadian and U.S. Prairie has been wet in recent years, resulting in improved habitat conditions for duck species, some of which are currently at long-term high population levels. However, water conditions on the Prairies fluctuate from wet (such as 2014) to very dry (drought) periods, which is not creating favourable conditions for wetlands. Habitat conservation initiatives such as the North American Waterfowl Management Plan are needed to maintain enough wetland habitats over the long-term to meet the needs of wetland species regardless of these short-term fluctuations in wetland conditions.
Q: So what does it all mean for hunting come the waterfowl season of 2014?
"I live for duck hunting in the fall, and this is the most excited I've been in a long time. Last year was great, but this year could even be better," said Rob Olson, managing director of the Manitoba Wildlife Federation. "In my travels around Manitoba lately, I've been taken aback by the number of broods I've been seeing. Notable is the incredible numbers of blue-winged teal and mallards. This is a year for duck hunting, folks. Get out there and enjoy this bounty."
Shel Zolkewich writes about the outdoors, travel and food when she's not playing outside, traveling or eating. You can reach her with your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.