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Breeding duck numbers down, wetland numbers up

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Along with another unusual spring and late ice-out, Minnesota's breeding mallard population counts are down slightly from last year while other species saw higher declines, according to the results of the annual Minnesota Department of Natural Resources spring waterfowl surveys.

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This year's mallard breeding population was estimated at 257,000, which is 12 percent below last year's estimate of 293,000 breeding mallards, 1 percent below the recent 10-year average and 13 percent above the long-term average.

The blue-winged teal population is 102,000 this year compared with 144,000 in 2013 and remains 53 percent below the long-term average of 215,000 blue-winged teal.

The combined populations of other ducks, such as ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads was 116,000, which is 53 percent lower than last year and 35 percent below the long-term average.

The estimated number of wetlands was 343,000, up 33 percent from last year, and 28 percent above the long-term average.

"While we're seeing declines in this year's counts, the survey results can be affected by weather and visibility of waterfowl from aircraft," said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. "Continental waterfowl population estimates will be released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later this summer and may provide a better indicator of what hunters could expect this fall."

The same waterfowl survey has been conducted each year since 1968 to provide an annual index of breeding duck abundance. The survey covers 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 who also count waterfowl along some of the same survey routes. These data are then used to correct for birds not seen by the aerial crew.

Canada goose population estimated at 244,000

This year's Canada goose population was estimated at 244,000 geese, which was similar to last year's estimate of 250,000 geese. This does not include an additional estimated 17,500 breeding Canada geese in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

"Although this year's population estimate is similar to last year's estimate, goose production, or the number of goslings that hatch, will be better than last year," Cordts said. "This year's colder than normal temperatures delayed some goose nesting, particularly in the northern portions of the state."

The number of breeding Canada geese in the state is estimated via 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.

"Although colder than normal, the lack of snowfall in April this spring allowed geese to begin nesting only about a week later than normal," Cordts said. "However, more nests were initiated this year than in spring of 2013, when snow remained on the ground in many parts of Minnesota well into May and goose production should be about average to slightly below average this year."

The DNR will announce this fall's waterfowl hunting regulations later this summer.

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