The number of breeding ducks in North Dakota has rebounded above 3 million after two straight years of wetlands deterioration sparked by severe drought in 2016.
The annual spring breeding duck survey conducted by the state Game and Fish Department indicated about 3.4 million birds, a 20% jump from 2018.
The figure also is 40% above the long-term average, which covers a span of 70 years, according to migratory game bird supervisor Mike Szymanski.
“Breeding duck numbers generally trend with wetland conditions,” he said. “The large number of ducks in North Dakota this spring can again be attributed to the large number of ducks that we have been producing for many years.”
The spring survey gives hunters their first glimpse of how duck numbers might shape up for the fall hunt. Following severe and extreme drought in 2016, spring breeding duck numbers dropped below 3 million in 2017 and 2018 for only the second and third times in nearly a quarter century. The low tallies still remained above the long-term average, which dates to 1948, however.
The number of temporary and seasonal wetlands in North Dakota this year is substantially higher than last year, according to Game and Fish. The spring water index, which measures the number of basins with water, is up 46%.
“Water conditions ranged from poor to excellent across the state,” Szymanski said. “Excellent wetland conditions in the south and east quickly deteriorated moving into the north central region, but are fair to good in the northwest.”
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows severe drought conditions in north central North Dakota.
“A lack of late-spring rainfall also continues to result in an expansion of abnormal dryness and moderate drought across the northern half of North Dakota,” the monitor said.
The southern half of the state so far has not been impacted, according to the map.
A statewide brood survey by Game and Fish in July will estimate duck production during the nesting season and provide a better idea of what hunters can expect in the fall.
Breeding duck numbers in North Dakota peaked at 5.4 million birds in 2002, following a string of wet years and a high amount of idled farmland in government conservation programs providing good grassland habitat for birds.
Long-term worries about waterfowl production in the state remain, with habitat continuing to decline as more of those grassland areas are put into crop production, Szymanski said.