Illinois hunting and fishing

Chris Young/The State Journal-Register
Migrating ducks lift off from a wetland in the Sanganois State Fish and Wildlife Area near Chandlerville, Illinois in this file photo. Chris Young/The State Journal-Register.

Duck populations appear to be up

July 18, 2009 at 06:04 PM

Like sports fans, hunters always look forward to “next season.”

It’s not that the season is so short — waterfowl hunters have enjoyed a string of 60-day seasons in recent years. It’s that the off-season is so long.

And like sports fans, hunters love to fill all this downtime with debates and discussion about what the upcoming season will bring.

Fortunately, each summer hunters are thrown a bone in the form of duck population surveys and pond counts from the “duck factory” in the north-central United States and Canada.

Numbers appear cautiously optimistic, with duck breeding numbers being up this year thanks to favorable conditions in the Prairie Pothole Region, which stretches from Alberta, Canada, south and east into Iowa.

Surveys counted 42 million ducks, compared to 37.2 million last year. The overall duck population is 13 percent higher than last year, and 25 percent above the long-term average — calculated from 1955 to 2008.

“It appears certain that we will get a 60-day duck season,” says state waterfowl biologist Ray Marshalla. Official word won’t be out until late July.

The mallard population is up 10 percent over last year, at 8.5 million. That’s also 13 percent above the long haul and the highest since 2000.

Green-winged teal — a common duck in a hunter’s bag after mallards — stand at 3.4 million, similar to last year and 79 percent above long-term average. The population is at his highest level since 1955.

Blue-winged teal tallied 7.4 million, similar to last year and 60 percent above long-term average. It is the second-highest count ever recorded. Marshalla says a six-day teal season is all but assured.

Northern pintails — a species of concern — stand at 3.2 million, 23 percent above last year but 20 percent below the long-term average.

About 700,000 canvasbacks were surveyed this year. The season was closed last year. The number is in line with the long-term average and Marshalla says the season should be open this year.

Scaup also are a species of concern, and its decline has frustrated biologists. This year, 4.2 million were surveyed. That is similar to last year, but 18 percent below the long-term average. Still, it’s the highest count since 1999, and Marshalla predicts a differential bag limit — 45 days with a limit of two and 15 days with a limit of one.

The number of ponds counted in the duck breeding grounds in the United States and Canada totaled 6.4 million. That’s 45 percent above last year and 31 percent above the long-term average.
Ponds are counted because many depend on precipitation and may not be present every year.

Canada’s share is 3.6 million, 17 percent above average. In the United States, the 2.9 million ponds counted stands 108 percent above last year and 87 percent ahead of the average. It is the most ponds counted in the United States since surveys began in 1974.

The Mississippi Valley Population of Canada geese stands at 581,232, below the 2008 estimate of 626,358. The breeding population of 239,631 is down 35 percent, due to persistent snow and ice cover in Canada. Snow was still on the ground June 11, Marshalla says.

“The birds use their energy just to survive (instead of breed),” he says.

Marshalla predicts hunting for MVP geese will be more difficult because of the low number of young. Goose-hunting regulations likely will remain unchanged from last year, he says, because the breeding population remains above the threshold of 225,000 that would trigger a review of goose-hunting regulations.

Illinois also has a resident giant Canada goose population that is estimated between 96,750 and 170,350.

“The local geese are the saving grace,” he says. “The local goose harvest buffers harvest of the migrants.”

Mother Nature may have limited the snow goose population’s ability to breed this summer, too.
“It will be good for the conservation order,” Marshalla says of efforts to control the snow goose population. “But it won’t be good for snow goose hunters, because they are hunting all adults.”