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Survey of Minnesota's duck population hints at waterfowl hunting outlook

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The total number of breeding mallards, blue-winged teals, ring-necks and other common ducks in Minnesota's best duck-breeding habitat is 524,000, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' spring waterfowl survey.

The survey is a look at the population of breeding ducks around the state. The 524,000 numbers does not include scaups, and is "similar," the DNR says, to last year's abundance of 474,000 ducks.

“We generally expect to see lower duck numbers during dry years," said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist, in a news release. "We did see lower mallard numbers this year, but blue-winged teal and other duck numbers were improved from last year.”

Later this summer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will release its continental waterfowl population estimates. Those figures, in conjunction with the DNR's, "provide an indicator of what hunters can expect this fall,” Cordts said.

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

Duck-by-duck breakdown

The breeding mallard population is estimated at 206,000 – that's 10 percent below last year's estimate of 257,000, and 17 percent below the 10-year average. However, that number is 10 percent above the long-term average (measured since 1968).

The blue-winged teal population was marked at 169,000 this year – 66 percent above the 2014 estimate of 102,000. But that's 21 percent below the long-term average 212,000.

As for other types – ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads – the total population came in at 149,000. That's 29 percent higher than last year, yet 16 percent below the long-term average.

The estimated number of wetlands is 220,000, down 36 percent from last year and 13 percent below the long-term average. Wetland numbers can vary greatly based on annual precipitation, the DNR notes.

The same waterfowl survey has been conducted each year since 1968 to provide a look at breeding duck abundance. It covers 40 percent of the state, including much of what the DNR calls "the best remaining duck breeding habitat in Minnesota."

Canada geese

In a separate survey, the DNR also looked at the Canada goose population.

That estimate came in at 250,000 geese, similar to last year’s figure of 244,000 geese. (The DNR notes this doesn’t include an additional estimated 17,500 breeding Canada geese in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.)

“The number of Canada geese in Minnesota remains high but the population has been very stable for many years," Cordts said. "With the early spring this year, we should see a good hatch of goslings as well.”

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