News reports of mallard broods stopping traffic as they cross a road are cute and make good copy, but they leave the impression that breeding ducks in Pennsylvania are abundant. Except for wood ducks, they are not, but duck populations are solid across North America.
Woodies breed statewide along wooded waterways and swamps, and their contribution to the continent's wood duck population is significant. But the vast majority of North American ducks originate in the prairie potholes of Canada, the Dakotas, eastern Montana and Minnesota.
A recently published U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report entitled, "Trends in Duck Breeding Populations 1955-2013," should be encouraging to North American duck hunters.
Using data obtained from aerial surveys conducted by the USFWS and the Canadian Wildlife Service, biologists made population estimates used to formulate hunting regulations for states and provinces. The total duck population this year, excluding sea ducks, mergansers and wood ducks, was 45.6 million birds. That's down 6 percent from last year (48.6 million), but still 33 percent higher than the long-term average.
Mallards, the most abundant duck in North America, came in at an estimated 10.4 million birds. That's about the same as last year and 36 percent above the long-term average of 7.6 million.
Population estimates for other common ducks showed similar trends. Gadwalls (3.3 million) maintained a population at 2012 levels, which is 80 percent above long-term levels. Green-winged teal numbers (3.1 million) were similar to 2012 levels and 51 percent above their long-term average. Blue-winged teal (7.7 million) were down 16 percent this year, but still up 60 percent over their long-term average.
This year, even diving duck numbers were strong. Redheads (1.2 million) and canvasback (800,000) numbers were similar to 2012 levels, but their population estimates were up 76 and 37 percent respectively over long-term averages.
The simple explanation for duck breeding success this year is lots of water. The estimate for total number of ponds found on the survey area was 6.9 million. That's 24 percent above the 2012 estimate and 35 percent above the long-term average.
Duck management is pretty simple -- give them habitat, snow melt and rain, and populations boom.
Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling), and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 WMNY-AM (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com, and 2222 Fish Ridge Rd., Cameron, WV 26033.