Despite the Covid-19 threat that shut down spring fish and wildlife work nationwide, including the taking of walleye eggs by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department completed its 73rd annual spring breeding duck survey.
According to North Dakota wildlife officials, duck counts were 18% higher than last year, with an index of nearly 4 million birds.
“Crews were turned into single person crews to make sure there was only one person in a vehicle, and we changed some of the route assignments to accommodate increased driving distances and workloads, but still maintained overlap with our fall wetland survey routes,” migratory game bird supervisor Mike Szymanski said. “It was definitely quite a bit more work, and we are grateful that our crew members were up for the challenge.”
This spring’s wetland index was the sixth highest on record and the breeding duck index was the 13th highest, both are highs since 2014.
The spring water index was up 65% from last year.
“Not surprisingly, we found really good wetland conditions during this year’s survey,” Szymanski said. “We had an unusually large amount of rain last fall, but have really been drying up since, especially in the western half of the state. The eastern half of North Dakota is still incredibly wet, and wetland numbers in the western half of the state are still in pretty good shape despite some drying.”
Primary species, except redheads (down 12%), were stable or up from 2019 estimates. Ruddy ducks were up 87%, green-winged teal were at a record high and up 66% and blue-winged teal were up 58%. Mallards were unchanged. All other ducks ranged from down 2% (pintails) to up 40% (scaup) from last year’s numbers. All species, except pintails, which were down slightly, were well-above the 72-year average.
“Conditions that we have seen since 1994 seem to be the new normal with more precipitation and higher duck numbers,” Szymanski said. “This year’s ranking of our breeding population is a pretty good sign as our 13 highest duck counts are all within the last 26 years. When you start getting around the 4 million range, you are talking about very, very good duck numbers. So it is good to see us getting back to the middle of the road for the new normal.”