Every year, thousands of waterfowl hunters and bird enthusiast flood local wetlands and bodies of water in hopes to get a glimpse of the yearly waterfowl winter migration. In order to keep duck numbers healthy and in check, the United States Fisheries and Wildlife Service pairs with Canada to conduct a population survey.
This past year was the first time the survey has been done since Spring of 2019 due to traveling restrictions from the Covid-19 Pandemic. This survey keeps track of overall population totals for ducks and also breaks down populations by species. The survey extends over vast areas of lands from Maine all the way west to Montana and even north into the Central Canadian Provinces. This years spring survey tracked ducks that were able to make the spring migration back north in hopes of breeding. The results have raised concerns as the total duck population had fallen 12% in the last few years with some already struggling species seeing a 21% decrease such as the Northern Pintail. An overall population decrease of 4 million ducks resulted during this undocumented time period.
You might be asking yourself, how could there be such a stark dip in totals and why? There could be many factors to this data, but one of the most major influential factors is drought conditions across much of the Great Plains the past several springs and summer.
Since the start of 2020, the United States and Canada have been under La Nina conditions throughout each year. This has lead to a phenomenon called atmospheric blocking occurring throughout the summers more frequently.
Atmospheric blocking happens when a high pressure sits to the west of the Midwest and prevents incoming low pressure systems from bringing in fronts and moisture needed for increased rainfall totals. This in turn brings drier conditions to wetlands used by ducks for breeding. Less areas to breed leads to less successful duck nest declining future populations.
Although this data shows a decline in the population. Hope remains high for next years survey as the Great Plains this past late spring received increased rainfall allowing for better conditions for better breeding going into the 2022 summer season. Time will tell if the population will rebound back to the impressive 2019 numbers.