The U.S. and Canadian fish and wildlife services have conducted aerial surveys to estimate breeding-duck numbers since 1955. The survey also evaluates nesting habitat conditions. The annual report of this survey provides an early look at prospects for the coming hunting season. This year's report estimates total duck numbers at 48.6 million continent-wide. That is a 7-percent increase from last year and up 43 percent from the long-term average (LTA).
The North American population of mallards, the mainstay species for Missouri waterfowl hunters, is estimated at 10.6 million this year. That is up 15 percent from 2011 and 40 percent above the LTA. Mallard numbers have exceeded this year's figure only twice in the past 56 years - 1958 and 1999.
The length of Missouri's early teal hunting season is set according to the number of blue-winged teal recorded in the annual survey. Blue-winged teal numbers this year are estimated at 9.2 million.
That is similar to last year's population. It also is 94 percent above the LTA and nearly twice the 4.7 million needed for the maximum early-season length of 16 days under federal guidelines. This year's early teal season will open Sept. 8 and run through Sept. 23.
Other duck species breeding populations recorded in the 2012 survey include:
|*||Gadwall, 3.6 million, similar to last year and 96 percent above LTA.|
|*||Pintail, 3.5 million, 22 percent below 2011 and 14 percent below LTA.|
|*||Green-winged teal, 3.5 million, up 20 percent from 2011 and 74 percent above LTA.|
|*||Wigeon, 2.1 million, similar to 2011 and 17 percent below LTA.|
|*||Scaup, 5.2 million, up 21 percent from last year and similar to LTA|
|*||Shoveler, 5 million, similar to 2011 and 111 percent above LTA.|
|*||Redhead, 1.3 million, similar to 2011 and 89 percent above LTA.|
|*||Canvasback, 800,000, similar to 2011 and 33 percent above LTA.|
Doreen Mengel, a resource scientist with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), notes that habitat conditions in the north-central United States and central Canada, where most of Missouri's ducks are produced, were not as good this year as in 2011. She says that could cut into nesting success. However, she also noted that above-average precipitation that occurred in prairie Canada after the survey was completed may have improved conditions for late-nesting species, any re-nesting attempts and for brood-rearing.
"It would have been difficult to imagine that we would see these kinds of waterfowl numbers 20 years ago," says Mengel. "Having near-record duck populations is a testament to the hard work hunters and conservation groups have made to restore wetland habitat on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border. It's reason for celebration. However, remember that weather, local habitat conditions, and migration timing will play major roles in shaping the 2012 teal and regular waterfowl seasons we experience in Missouri."
The Missouri Conservation Commission will set opening and closing dates, bag limits and other details of the regular waterfowl season at its August meeting.