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North Dakota spring duck numbers, wetland conditions, improve from 2021

The spring water index is up 616%, the largest single-year increase on record for the survey.

North Dakota ducks.jpg
North Dakota breeding duck numbers increased from last year, but counts for blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, gadwall and wigeon were down, the Game and Fish Department said.
Contributed / North Dakota Game and Fish Department
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BISMARCK – Breeding duck numbers are up 16% from last year at 3.4 million birds, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department said Thursday in reporting results from its 75th annual spring breeding duck survey conducted in May.

The index was the 23rd-highest on record and stands 38% above the long-term (1948-2021) average, said Mike Szymanski, migratory game bird supervisor for Game and Fish in Bismarck.

Indices for most species, with the exception of green-winged teal, gadwall, wigeon and blue-winged teal, increased from 2021, the department said. Mallards were up 58% from 2021 and represented the 25th-highest count on record. The ruddy duck index increased 157%, shovelers and pintails increased 126% and 108%, respectively, and other increases ranged from 4% for scaup to 69% for canvasbacks.

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Long-billed curlews are a species of concern because of population declines, and they’re also seen as an indicator species for the health of grasslands, even agricultural lands.

Decreases from the 2021 index were observed for green-winged teal ( down 42%), gadwall (-36%), wigeon (-10%) and blue-winged teal (-4%), the survey showed.

“It’s important to note that some of our statewide increases in species counts might not reflect broader-scale population trends, especially for pintails,” Szymanski said. “The abnormally wet conditions in the state are likely holding a higher percentage of breeding pintails than normal. We’re coming off a very dry year that resulted in low reproduction, range-wide, for many species.”

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Mike Szymanski
Mike Szymanski.
Contributed / North Dakota Game and Fish Department

The number of temporary and seasonal wetlands was substantially higher than last year, as figures show the spring water index is up 616%, the largest single year increase on record for the survey. The water index is based on basins with water and does not necessarily represent the amount of water contained in wetlands or the type of wetlands represented. Consistent precipitation and cool weather leading up to the survey left a lot of water on the landscape in ditches and intermittent streams.

“Besides being our 75th consecutive survey year, this was an interesting survey, as we’ve gone back and forth between wet and dry conditions over the past couple of years,” Szymanski said. “We actually had our second highest wetland index in the state, which is largely made up of water that’ll dry up fairly quickly. But ponds that are important for brood-rearing habitat have rebounded nicely as well.

“A lot can change between May and hunting season, so we'll get a few more looks from our July brood index and our September wetland count,” he added. “But duck production should be a little bit better this year than it was last year due to a stronger breeding effort. However, we continue to lose grass in upland nesting sites that will diminish reproductive potential for ducks in the state. Despite expected low Canada goose production this year due to the harsh conditions in April, we did have a record number of geese on breeding territories, so hunting opportunities for those birds should be pretty good again this year.”

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