State’s breeding duck, goose numbers unchanged from last year

July 5, 2010

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

Minnesota’ s 2010 breeding duck and goose populations are similar to last year, according to the results of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) spring waterfowl survey.

The state’s estimated breeding duck population was 531,000 compared with last year’s estimate of 541,000.

This year’s estimate is 15 percent less than the long-term average of 624,000 breeding ducks.

The Canada goose population was estimated at 311,000, similar to last year’s estimate of 285,000.

The number of breeding Canada geese has been relatively stable the past 10 years.

Minnesota’s spring breeding population of waterfowl is influenced each year by the quantity and quality of the state’s wetlands as well as habitat conditions in states and provinces to the north and west.

Data on breeding duck numbers across other regions of North America is not yet available, but preliminary reports suggest good to excellent wetland habitat conditions in the Dakotas and portions of southern Canada.

Although breeding duck numbers were similar to last year, the goal in the DNR’s statewide Duck Recovery Plan is to attract and hold a breeding population of 1 million ducks.

“This will require that the DNR and all of our conservation partners stay focused on the long-term effort to restore the additional habitat that is needed to accomplish this goal,” said Dennis Simon, DNR wildlife section chief.

Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist, said this year’s survey results showed no significant changes from last year.

The main indices of breeding duck abundance – mallard, blue-winged teal, and total ducks – were statistically the same.

The index of wetland habitat abundance was very similar to last year.

This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 242,000, which was unchanged from last year’s estimate of 236,000 breeding mallards, 15 percent below the recent 10-year average and 8 percent above the long-term average.

The blue-winged teal population was 132,000 this year compared with 135,000 in 2009.

Blue-winged teal numbers remained 36 percent below the recent 10-year average and 40 percent below the long-term average.

“Blue-winged teal numbers have been below average for the past six years in Minnesota,” Cordts said. “Continental teal populations are doing very well, so it may relate to conditions specific to Minnesota.”

Breeding blue-wings tend to respond favorably to areas with an abundance of very shallow, seasonally flooded wetlands.

“We don’t have sufficient amounts of this type of wetland habitat remaining in the prairie regions of Minnesota,” Cordts said.

The combined populations of other ducks, such as wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads, was 157,000, which is 12 percent below the long-term average.

The estimated number of wetlands (Types II-V) was 270,000, down 15 percent from last year but near the long-term average of 250,000.

“Wetland habitat conditions were actually somewhat dry at the beginning of the survey in early May, but improved with rain events beginning in mid-May,” Cordts said. “While this is usually favorable for summer brood-rearing conditions, the drier conditions in April likely did not attract additional breeding ducks to settle in Minnesota.”

The same waterfowl survey has been conducted each May since 1968 to provide an annual index of breeding duck abundance.

The survey is funded by hunting license dollars.

The survey covers about 40 percent of the state that includes much of the best remaining duck breeding habitat in Minnesota.

A DNR waterfowl biologist and pilot count all waterfowl and wetlands along established survey routes by flying low-level aerial surveys from a fixed-wing plane.

The survey is timed to begin in early May to coincide with peak nesting activity of mallards.

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides ground crews that also count waterfowl along some of the same survey routes.

This data is used to correct for birds not seen by the aerial crew.

Canada Geese

Since 2001, the DNR has conducted a helicopter survey of nesting Canada geese in April.

The survey, which includes most of the state except for the Twin Cities metropolitan area, counts Canada geese on randomly selected plots located in prairie, transition and forested areas.

“The number of breeding Canada geese has been relatively stable statewide for the past 10 years,” said DNR biologist Dave Rave. “Because of the early spring this year and very favorable nesting conditions, goose production should be excellent. Most managers have been reporting good numbers of goose broods so far this summer, which should provide plenty of hunting opportunity this fall.”

The waterfowl report can be viewed online at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl.

DNR will announce this fall’s waterfowl hunting regulations in early August.

Ruffed grouse counts down after 2009 peak
From the DNR

Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts were significantly lower than last year across most of their range, according to a report released by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“It looks like 2009 was probably the peak in the 10-year population cycle,” said Mike Larson, DNR research scientist and grouse biologist. “Drumming counts this spring, however, were still closer to those at the high rather than low end of the cycle.”

Ruffed grouse populations, which tend to rise and fall on a 10-year cycle, are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions.

This year observers recorded 1.5 drums per stop statewide.

Last year’s average was 2.0 drums per stop.

Counts vary from about 0.8 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 1.9 during years of high abundance.

Drumming counts decreased 31 percent compared to those during 2009 in the northeast survey region, the core and bulk of grouse range in Minnesota, to 1.6 drums per stop.

Grouse counts decreased 29 percent in the southeast region, from 0.5 to 0.3 drums per stop, but the difference was not statistically significant.

Counts of 1.8 drums per stop in the northwest and 1.0 drums per stop in the central hardwoods were similar to last year’s counts.

Minnesota frequently is the nation’s top ruffed grouse producer.

On average, 115,000 hunters harvest 545,000 ruffed grouse in Minnesota each year, also making it the state’s most popular game bird.

During the peak years of 1971 and 1989, hunters harvested more than 1 million ruffed grouse.

Michigan and Wisconsin, which frequently field more hunters than Minnesota, round out the top three states in ruffed grouse harvest.

One reason for the Minnesota’s status as a top grouse producer is an abundance of aspen and other ruffed grouse habitat, much of it located on county, state and national forests, where public hunting is allowed.

An estimated 11.5 million of the state’s 16.3 million acres of forest are grouse habitat.

For the past 60 years, DNR biologists have monitored ruffed grouse populations.

This year, DNR staff and cooperators from 15 organizations surveyed 125 routes across the state.

Sharp-tailed counts down slightly

Sharp-tailed grouse counts in the northwest survey region decreased approximately 5 percent between 2009 and 2010, Larson said.

Counts in the east-central region declined approximately 1 percent.

Observers look for male sharptails displaying on traditional mating areas, called leks or dancing grounds.

This year’s statewide average of 10.7 grouse counted per dancing ground was similar to counts during 2003 to 2007 and the long-term average since 1980.

Last year’s average of 13.6 was as high as during any year since 1980.

During the past 25 years, the sharp-tailed grouse index has been as low as seven birds counted per dancing ground.

Overall, sharptail populations appear to have declined over the long term as a result of habitat deterioration.

In recent years, the DNR has increased prescribed burning and shearing that keep trees from overtaking the open brush lands that sharp-tailed grouse need to thrive.

The DNR’s 2010 grouse survey report, which contains information on ruffed grouse and sharp-tailed grouse, will be available soon online at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/grouse.

Apply now for prairie chicken, fall turkey hunts
From the DNR

Hunters who wish to apply for one of 186 permits for the 2010 Minnesota prairie chicken season or for one of 10,430 permits for the fall turkey hunt must do so by Friday, July 30, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Applications are available wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold.

Application materials and maps of permit areas for both hunts are available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov.hunting/.

Winners will be notified by mail by mid-September.

Application must be made at any DNR license agent, by phone or online.

Online and phone options offer 24-hour-a-day service at www.mndnr.gov/buyalicense or 888-665-4236.

Turkey hunters may apply for one permit from 67 different hunting areas that will be open from Saturday, Oct. 2, to Sunday, Oct. 31.

This single season replaces multiple fall seasons.

Youth who want to turkey hunt in the fall must apply.

Over-the-counter sales of fall turkey permits are not available.

The fall turkey hunt application fee is $3.

The license costs $23 for residents and $78 for nonresidents.

The $5 stamp validation has been incorporated into the license fee.

A separate stamp no longer is required.

The five-day prairie chicken season, which will begin on Saturday, Oct. 23, is open to Minnesota residents only.

Hunters will be charged a $4 application fee and may apply individually or in groups up to four.

Prairie chicken licenses cost $20. The hunt concludes Wednesday, Oct. 27.