The Status of Waterfowl Annual Report for the 2019 and 2020 waterfowl season has just been released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The USFWS waterfowl surveys are a combination of aerial and terrestrial surveys conducted across the Northern U.S. and Canada each year designed to identify breeding success and overall trends in North American waterfowl populations.The waterfowl population status is provided to the agencies and reviewed by biologists and state leaders to aide in selecting bag limits and season lengths across the United States. The Status of Waterfowl report is a collaboration between the USFWS, Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), and various state and local agencies and groups.
The results of the 2019 waterfowl population status survey were similar or slightly declined from 2018. Total pond numbers decreased and the total duck population estimate was 38.9 ± 0.7 million birds, 6% lower than the 2018 estimate of 41.2 ± 0.7 million and 10% higher than the long-term average. The snow goose population 2019 is average to slightly below average.
2019 Waterfowl Population Survey Results
2019 Pond Estimates (North Central U.S. and Prairie Canada Combined) – 5.0±0.2 million, down from 5.2±0.2 million in 2018.
Snow Goose Hatch Report 2019/2020 – Average to slightly below average. Biologists reported early spring phenology or good breeding conditions at Bylot, Bafn, Akimiski, Southampton, and Wrangel Islands, the Ungava Peninsula, and in southwestern Alaska.
2019 Mallard Population Outlook – 9.4±0.3 million, which was similar to the 2018 estimate of 9.3±0.3 million, but 19% above the long-term average of 7.9±0.04 million.
Mallard Fall-fight Index – The mid-continent mallard population is composed of mallards from the traditional survey area (revised in 2008 to exclude mallards from Alaska and the Old Crow Flat area of the Yukon Territory), Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and was estimated to be 10.7 ± 1.0 million birds in 2019. This was similar to the 2018 estimate of 11.8 ± 1.1 million.
2019 White-fronted Goose Fall Inventory – 771,609 White-fronted geese were counted in the 2018 Fall Survey. The three year average is currently 916,277.
Status of Sandhill Cranes 2019 – The spring 2019 estimate of abundance for sandhill cranes in the Central Platte River Valley (CPRV), Nebraska, corrected for visibility bias, was 945,996 birds. This estimate is 6% below the record-high estimate from the previous year, and the second-highest recorded.
North American Migratory Bird Flyways
The U.S. and Canada are comprised of 4 different flyways consisting of the Pacific Flyway along the west coast, Central Flyway in the Midwest to the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Flyway from Hudson Bay down to the middle Gulf Coast, and the Atlantic Flyway which stretches from New Foundland down the east coast of the U.S. to Florida.
While there are co-mingling of birds throughout these flyways each year, these zone serve as the demarcation for federal and state agencies to manage hunting seasons, bag limits, and individual species of concern as they see fit.
There are, however, populations of migratory waterfowl that choose to winter and nest within the same flyway their entire lives. Rules and regulations tailored for migratory bird populations that utilize specific flyways can help manage the overall health of certain populations.
Status of Ducks 2019/2020
Wood Duck Population – Not provided by USFWS.
Mallards – 9.4±0.3 million, which was similar to the 2018 estimate of 9.3±0.3 million, but 19% above the long-term average of 7.9±0.04 million.
Blue-winged teal – 5.4±0.3 million which was 16% below the 2018 estimate and similar to the long-term average of 5.1 ± 0.04 million.
Gadwall – 3.3 ± 0.2 million which was similar to the 2018 estimate and 61% above the long-term average.
Northern Shoveler – 3.6 ± 0.1 million estimate was 13% below last year and 39% above the long-term average of 2.6±0.02 million.
Green-winged teal – 3.2 ± 0.2 million, which was similar to the 2018 estimate of 3.0 ± 0.2 million and 47% above the long-term average (2.2 ± 0.02 million).
Redheads – 0.7 ± 0.06 million was 27% lower than the 2018 estimate and similar to the long-term average of 0.7 ± 0.01 million.
Northern Pintail – 2.3 ± 0.1 million was similar to the 2018 estimate and 42% below the long-term average of 3.9 ± 0.03 million.
American Wigeon – 2.8 ± 0.2 million was similar to the 2018 estimate and long-term average of 2.6 ± 0.02 million.
Canvasbacks – 0.7 ± 0.05 million was similar to the 2018 estimate and long-term average of 0.6 ± 0.01 million.
Scaup – 3.6 ± 0.2 million was similar to the 2018 estimate and 28% below the long-term average of 5.0 ± 0.04 million.
Status of Geese and Swans 2019/2020
Canada Geese (General Trends)
- Rocky Mountain Population (+7%)
- Pacific Population (+4%)
- Aleutian Canada geese (Branta spp.) (+6%)
Lesser Snow Geese
- USFWS failed to provide a detailed report on nesting success. This is likely due to the lack of biologist surveys submitted prior to the report being released. Reports of spring nesting conditions and independent accounts from the arctic colonies suggest the fall flight of Mid-Continent lesser snow geese will be average to slightly below average.
- -6% 10 year trend. 337,000 current population estimate. Results for 2019 not in from Karrak Lake.
2019-2020 Waterfowl Forecast
The results of the 2019 waterfowl population survey showed a slight decrease in total duck numbers from 2018. Much of the Canadian Prairies experience below average precipitation from the fall of 2018 though the spring of 2019. Temperatures were also below normal. However, spring phenology and ice-out was generally normal across the breeding grounds resulting in good to excellent conditions for waterfowl production in many areas.
Total pond estimates fell slightly but not enough to effect overall nesting success. Even so, overall field survey data suggests a 6% decline in the fall duck flight this year. Even with an overall decrease, several species such as Blue-winged teal, Mallards, Green-winged teal, and Wigeon were all higher than 2018.
Goose populations remained average to slightly below average based on early spring phenology across the arctic and subarctic. Biologists reported early spring phenology or good breeding conditions at Bylot, Bafn, Akimiski, Southampton, Wrangel Islands, the Ungava Peninsula, and in southwestern Alaska. Several reports from biologists indicated that goslings showed various levels of development which suggests that a large group of nesting geese nested later than others, due to unknown reasons. It remains to be seen if birds that hatched late can make the fall flight south and to what affect this will have on the juvy snow goose numbers that every snow goose hunter counts on each year.
Overall, the 2019 waterfowl fall flight should be similar to that of the 2018 hunting season. Many species remain well above their long term averages and first year birds should be in abundance as seen under similar conditions in the past. An usually cold fall and winter could help drive more birds further south, which could be a greater factor than the 6% overall decline that the 2019 waterfowl population survey results indicate.