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Spring waterfowl survey results show good breeding numbers and quality habitat conditions

Published by Central Office July 3, 2018

Contact(s): Taylor Finger, DNR migratory game bird ecologist, 608-266-8841; Trenton Rohrer, DNR assistant migratory game bird ecologist, 608-261-6458

MADISON - Wisconsin's 2018 spring waterfowl population surveys indicate stable to increased numbers of breeding waterfowl pairs as well as relatively good wetland conditions, which should result in increased waterfowl production this year across most of the state.

"Overall, we saw fewer numbers of birds than the 2017 estimates; however, we did see an increase in the Mallard population estimate and stable estimates for wood ducks and Canada geese," said Taylor Finger, DNR migratory bird ecologist. "We continue to be at or above the long-term average for all but blue-winged teal."

This survey information, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continental duck survey and Ontario Canada goose survey provides information regarding yearly waterfowl breeding conditions and is used to determine the fall season structure for Wisconsin. The full survey report can be found at dnr.wi.gov, keywords "waterfowl surveys."

In 2018, Wisconsin experienced record low temperatures in April, with lakes in northern Wisconsin still frozen on May 5. This stalled migration in most of Wisconsin and breeding activity by mallards and Canada geese. Average and above-average temperatures across most of the state followed in early and mid-May, respectively.

"Weather was less of an issue during the survey compared to last year with only one day of flights being canceled," said Finger. "These changing weather and migration factors make it difficult to schedule the breeding survey to effectively survey all species."

With near average precipitation in May following the survey, wetland conditions remained average to above-average for brood rearing, and Wisconsin is expected to provide good duck production in 2018.

A relatively mild winter in 2017-18 in most parts of the state, combined with average precipitation in April and May, led to average conditions throughout Wisconsin. Counts indicated dryer conditions than in 2017 in all regions of the state but most areas were still above the long-term averages. Finger said considerable rainfall in May following the survey has helped Wisconsin remain at average or above average wetland conditions for the year during the important brood-rearing period.

The Wisconsin breeding duck population estimate of 439,397 represents a decrease of 8 percent compared to 2017, and is right at the long-term (45-year) average. Of the species-specific population estimates for the three top breeding ducks in Wisconsin, (mallard, blue-winged teal and wood duck) mallards, showed the largest increase from 2017.

"Each duck species population estimate normally varies from year to year, so I urge hunters and other conservationists to interpret this information over several years and in the continental context," said Finger. "For example, the blue-winged teal breeding population in Wisconsin is lower than historic levels, but continental estimates the last few years have reached all-time highs, and two-thirds of Wisconsin regular duck season blue-winged teal harvest comes from out of state."

These breeding pair and habitat conditions are important to waterfowl hunters as roughly 70 percent of mallard harvest in Wisconsin is supported by locally hatched ducks. Although higher this year, it is important to note that the average mallard population in the last few years has been lower than the previous decade. This observation suggests that continued efforts aimed at controlling mallard harvest impacts and support for grassland nesting habitat conservation are important to the future of Wisconsin's local mallard population.

Canada goose population estimates similar to 2017

Wisconsin Canada goose harvest is supported by Canada geese breeding in northern Ontario, as well as those breeding locally in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin breeding estimate for Canada geese is similar to 2017 at 157,950 birds and consistent with a stable population of roughly 145,000, which is the 10-year average. Continental breeding waterfowl population estimates from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey are expected to arrive in July.

In August, Wisconsin will join Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Ontario, and Saskatchewan as the Mississippi Flyway Council to analyze survey data and provide recommendations to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding waterfowl hunting regulations for 2019 seasons. These recommendations will help determine the framework under which states and provinces set waterfowl hunting seasons.

Under new federal framework, Wisconsin conducted its annual waterfowl season hearings this spring, and the Natural Resources Board approved department proposals for season structure at its April 10 meeting.

"Since this new federal framework is using data based on the prior year's breeding survey estimates, we can now propose and approve the waterfowl season several months before we have in the past," said Finger.

Earlier approval dates lead to early availability for regulations

With earlier approval dates, 2018 migratory bird season regulations [PDF] are currently available online and at many license vendors throughout Wisconsin.

As a reminder there were several significant changes to the 2018 waterfowl hunting season structure. The first of the 2018 migratory game bird seasons will open with the early Canada goose, mourning dove and early teal seasons starting on Sept. 1. Regular waterfowl hunting seasons will include a 60-day duck season which will start with a statewide opener on Sept. 29th and 92-day regular goose season which will have two splits to allow hunting during the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Highlights from the 2018 season structure include:

A reminder to Canada goose hunters, registration of Canada geese and in-field validation of the Canada goose hunting permit is no longer required.

For more information regarding migratory birds in Wisconsin, search keyword "waterfowl."

Check out a Wild Wisconsin: Off the Record podcast with DNR migratory game bird staff

Anyone interested in learning more about Wisconsin's migratory game birds is encouraged to check out a Wild Wisconsin: Off the Record podcast featuring migratory game bird staff. This podcast is available on YouTube, iTunes, and through the social media page of the DNR website.

Last Revised: Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Contact information

For more information about news and media, contact:
James Dick
Director of Communications
608-267-2773