Waterfowl population increase fuels hunting season changes

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 | 4:38 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The North American population of teal has doubled in the past several years and continues to grow, which means hunters in Missouri once again will have an extended season in September.

In 2005, blue-winged, green-winged and cinnamon teal numbered around 4.6 million in North America. That number has since risen to nearly 10 million. 

Researchers each year study the condition of teal habitat and the harvest potential presented by the population. That allows the Missouri Department of Conservation to control populations with extended hunting seasons and limits on the number of birds a hunter can kill in one day, also known as the bag limit.

This year's hunting season will be Sept. 7 to 22.

"Habitat conditions in the breeding grounds have been good to excellent the past few years," waterfowl biologist Doreen Mengel said.

Teal are small ducks known for their rapid flight and bright colors. The green-winged teal is North America's smallest duck. It and blue-winged teal are common in Missouri, while cinnamon teal are rare in the state.

Teal breed in wetlands and grasslands in the Prairie Pothole Region, which includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Montana, Minnesota and parts of Canada. In the fall, they migrate south through the Mississippi Flyway.

Mengel said teal populations determine the length of the hunting season. If the population is fewer than 3.3 million, there is no season. If it's between 3.3 million and 4.7 million, the season last nine days. Higher populations bring 16-day seasons.

The seasons have been 16 days every year since 2006. Still, the number of teal continues to grow. The department has approved an increase in the bag limit from four to six.

"The increase in bag limit should not have a significant impact on teal populations," Mengel said. "The number of days a species is harvested is believed to have more influence on harvest than bag limits."

MU senior and duck hunter Gib Wray said he's excited about the opportunity to shoot more teal.

"I think the increased limit will bring more hunters out and get people more involved with waterfowl hunting," Wray said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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