Duck, geese numbers take a slight dip

Two mallard ducks, a female (left) and a male (center), sit on rocks near a river.

Waterfowl hunters can expect a season similar to last year’s, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service population surveys analyzed by the hunting and conservation organization Ducks Unlimited.

The overall North American waterfowl population totaled 38.9 million breeding ducks, about 6 percent lower than last year’s count but 10 percent above the long-term average. Mallard numbers were up 2 percent, gadwalls were up 13 percent and green-winged teal numbers improved by 4 percent over 2018.

But blue-winged teal dropped 16 percent, northern shovelers were off 13 percent, pintails were down 4 percent and scaup were off by 10 percent.

Regionally, numbers of breeding ducks were down 12 percent in Washington and off 14 percent in Oregon. But British Columbia saw an 18 percent jump in its numbers. Montana and the western Dakotas were up by 7 percent.

“Overall both total ponds and total populations of breeding waterfowl in the Prairie Pothole Region were down slightly,” Ducks Unlimited chief scientist Tom Moorman said in a news release. “However, important breeding areas in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan were much drier than last year, which contributes to reduced numbers of breeding waterfowl observed in the survey.”

Moorman also noted that the eastern portion of the Dakotas had good waterfowl habitat and mallards, blue-winged teal, gadwalls, northern shovelers and northern pintails did well there.

“Typically, when the Dakotas are wet and southern Alberta and Saskatchewan are dry, we see the aforementioned species settle in the Dakotas, reminding us that we must conserve habitat across the prairies, because it is rare for the entire Prairie Pothole Region to be wet. Ultimately, however, hunting success and numbers of birds observed will vary with the onset of fall and winter cold fronts and arrival of winter conditions necessary to force birds to migrate, and also with regional habitat conditions.”

The annual survey noted that the Canadian prairies were drier than normal, but the U.S. prairies experienced near normal precipitation.

Idaho’s duck and goose seasons opens Oct. 12 and runs through Jan. 24 in Area 1, which encompasses most of the state with the exception of Valley County and most of eastern Idaho that are in Area 2. Area 2 opens Oct. 5 and runs through Jan. 15. In Area 3, which includes Bear Lake County and most of Caribou County, a geese-only season, opens Oct. 5 and runs through Jan. 2.

In eastern Washington a one-day youth-only waterfowl season will be held Sept. 28. Duck season will be open statewide in Washington Oct. 12-30 and from Nov. 2 to Jan. 26. Washington’s goose season in Management Area 5, which is divided into three separate blocks and includes the state’s southeastern corner, will be open Oct. 12-28 and from Nov. 2 to Jan. 26.

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

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