Missouri duck population rises

More ducks this year than usual may make hunters happy.
Friday, July 13, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:05 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

An improvement in breeding grounds has caused a significant increase in this year’s duck population.

The number of ducks expected for the fall migration is up 14 percent from last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported Thursday.

Mallards, the most popular duck for hunters in Missouri, were up 10 percent to 8.03 million.

The increase in the population of the blue-winged teal, a small duck that generally migrates in early fall before most ducks, is up 14 percent from last year’s estimate and 48 percent above the long-term average. This is the third highest estimate for the blue-winged teal population since 1955.

Duck breeding grounds, which are ponds in the northern U.S. and Canadian prairies, increased 15 percent from last year’s pond count, a 44 percent increase from the long-term average, with 42.1 million breeding ducks in the surveyed area.

Breeding grounds in Alaska, Canada and the Northern Plains are surveyed every May and June by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to estimate duck numbers. The breeding grounds surveyed include the three Western migratory flyways, said resource scientist Dave Graber of the Department of Conservation.

Conditions look promising for a 60-day hunting season again this year. That decision is expected to be made when the Conservation Commission meets Aug. 10, Graber said.

Although duck numbers are up, the hunting season is also affected by weather and food conditions, he said.

“The ducks tend to migrate when cold fronts come through. If it’s really warm or if it’s really cold, it could affect the hunting season. It depends on weather and food conditions, and some of the flooding might affect the food availability,” Graber said.

Flooding in May washed out some of the corn crops the ducks feed on at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, said Tim James, area manager at Eagle Bluffs. He said the staff is working on land management to improve the food situation for the fall, but food at Eagle Bluffs won’t be at its peak.

“Corn planted April 15 will do a whole lot better than corn planted June 15,” James said.

The duck report was released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has monitored duck conditions since 1955.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sets a range of dates and three options for hunting seasons — 30, 45, or 60 days in duration. Last year, Missouri had a 60-day season.

Graber said that the bag limit for the season, or the number of ducks allowed to be hunted, is tied to the hunting season length options. A 60-day season has a six-bag limit.

Graber said that there are concerns with the pintail and scaup populations. He said the bag limits on those breeds are not yet decided.

James said there are ongoing studies to pinpoint problems in the pintails and scaup species, but the problems are not easily identified.

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