The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partner organizations just wrapped up their annual waterfowl breeding population and habitat surveys on the breeding grounds in the northern United States and Canada. These surveys monitor waterfowl populations and critical wetland habitat conditions, which are directly related to the number of birds which will head south through the Central Flyway and into Texas and other states during the fall and winter.
Estimates from these Central Flyway surveys are used to help set duck hunting season frameworks like bag limits and the number of hunting days. The overall North American total pond estimate, a measure of wetland habitat quantity, decreased by 21 percent from the estimate in 2015. While not great, the overall wetland habitat availability was similar to the long term average, and the total breeding duck population estimate decreased by only two percent from 2015 estimates and remained well above the long term average. This means duck hunting in Texas should be good this fall and winter.
Population estimates for 5 of the 10 surveyed duck species increased this year! Mallard numbers increased by one percent from last year to a total of 11.7 million birds, which is the highest estimate on record. Scaup and American wigeon populations showed the greatest increases (14% and 12%, respectively).
Redheads and American green-winged teal populations also experienced increases. Blue-winged teal, northern shoveler, northern pintail, gadwall, and canvasback population estimates revealed decreases in their overall numbers.
“The waterfowl breeding grounds are still experiencing a decline in grassland nesting habitat in portions of the United States and Canada, which is extremely important for nesting waterfowl. Significant acreage has been lost from these vital grasslands from declines in Conservation Reserve Program enrollment and loss of native prairie habitat,” said a state Central Flyway official.
Even with breeding duck populations again near record numbers, Texas hunters are reminded that many factors will determine whether or not large numbers of these birds show up in our wetlands. Fall and winter weather, as well as wetland habitat conditions here on the wintering grounds play major roles in duck migrations, which will ultimately define the hunting season for Texas’ duck hunters.
Get your ammo, check your gear, another good duck hunting year is near!
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