Harsh early winter weather in North Dakota flushed a lot of waterfowl out of the state.
An annual midwinter waterfowl survey that aims to help identify population trends indicated about 29,000 Canada geese in the state, compared with 81,000 last year at the same time and the 10-year average of 112,200.
A low count of wintering waterfowl was expected given the substantial snowfall and frigid arctic air in November and December leading up to the survey, according to Andy Dinges, migratory game bird biologist for the state Game and Fish Department.
“We’ve had well-above-average snowfall already, especially in the central part of the state where most of our birds typically winter along the Missouri River System,” he said. “Much of this area had received over 50 inches of snow before the survey, which has made access to waste grains difficult for birds, and overall wintering conditions have been poor for waterfowl.”
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Blizzards that hit the state in November and December broke precipitation records in the Bismarck area. The capital city received more than 4 feet of snow from October through December and ended the calendar year on pace for a record winter snowfall, according to National Weather Service data.
Lake Sakakawea iced over on Dec. 18, one of the earliest dates for freeze-up in recent years. In four of the last 10 years the lower portion of the lake still had substantial open water in early January, according to Game and Fish.
The survey observed an estimated 24,400 Canada geese on the Missouri River and another 4,400 on Nelson Lake in Oliver County. That compared with 55,000 and 21,100, respectively, last year.
An additional 5,900 mallard ducks were tallied statewide this year, most of them on Nelson Lake. The 10-year average count for mallards is 16,500. Last year's count was 7,000.
All states in the Central Flyway migration route participate in the midwinter survey during the same time frame to reduce the possibility of counting birds more than once.