WINTER COLUMN: Report cites record duck numbers
It’s tough to think about duck hunting when the temperatures outside are pushing triple digits.
But even as we cook down here in the Lowcountry, the famed “duck factory” of the Great Plains and Canada is churning out record numbers of fresh waterfowl.
According to a report released last week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, North American duck populations are booming despite some loss of breeding habitat. This year’s estimate of 48.6 million birds is 7 percent higher than in 2011 and 43 percent above the long-term average.
The report, based on survey samples from more than 2 million square miles of waterfowl habitat across the United States and Canada, bodes well for Lowcountry waterfowl hunters.
“It’s great, there’s an abundance of birds, and that could mean a great season,” said Craig LeSchack, Ducks Unlimited’s director of conservation programs for the South Atlantic Flyway.
“The biggest issue of course is weather. How cold it gets up north really determines the bulk of the birds that we get.”
A nice bump in green- and blue-winged teal numbers might prove particularly welcome when the early teal season starts in September.
“Blue-winged teal don’t tolerate cold well and are going to migrate through here regardless of weather, and the numbers for those are way up,” LeSchack said.
“They start showing up here in late August. Some stay here through the winter, others head down into Florida and even further into the Caribbean.
“But the early season in September — that could be really good.”
The report also noted a marked increase in greater and lesser scaup numbers, a change LeSchack found particularly encouraging.
“That is a species that has been of some concern,” he said.
“The long-term trend, up until mid-2000s, was downward. Since then, it’s trending upward. That’s always a good sign.”
Not all of the news is so good, however.
LeSchack and his colleagues at DU warn that loss of duck breeding habitat, whether from drought or the conversion of wetlands to agricultural use, could put a stop to the growth in waterfowl populations.
Habitat loss is of particular concern in the prairie pothole region of the Great Plains and central Canada — the duck factory.
“You can get upward of 70 percent of the continental population of ducks coming out of that area,” LeSchack said.
“Three out of every four ducks can come out of there when conditions are perfect.”
Ducks migrating to or through South Carolina come from a variety of places, including the pothole prairie region but also the Great Lakes region, Ontario and over into eastern provinces of Canada.
Lowcountry duck hunters who want to learn more about conservation efforts and duck migration patterns should mark their calendars for Aug. 3-4, when the South Carolina chapter of Ducks Unlimited will hold its annual convention in Charleston.
Go to ducks.org/south-carolina to learn more.
Reach Matt Winter, Tideline magazine editor, at 843-937-5568 or firstname.lastname@example.org.