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Published: Sunday, 8/1/2004

Duck numbers fall due to dry winter on prairies

Very dry winter conditions in the prairie pothole country of central Canada and the upper United States were responsible for an 11 per cent decline in duck population indices from 2003, according to Ducks Unlimited.

DU biologists say, however, that some recovery in duck nesting occurred later because of a wetter spring.

The findings are based on the annual May survey of populations of the main harvested duck species and habitat surveys by the U.S. and Canadian wildlife services.

Federal and state agencies will meet in late summer to set annual hunting-season frameworks.

The nesting-duck index overall in May was 32.2 million birds, according to the services. That is 11 percent below 2003 and three percent below the long-term average.

An extremely dry winter left soil so parched that almost all early spring snowmelt soaked into the ground, with little runoff to fill basins prior to arrival of northbound waterfowl, the waterfowl and wetlands conservation organization said. The May pond count, for example, was down 29 percent in prairie Canada and 16 percent on the U.S. prairies in the Great Plains.

The only pond-count exceptions were in southern Manitoba, where ponds were up 10 per cent, and the western Dakotas, up 25 per cent.

"Moisture conditions have improved markedly since the surveys were conducted, and our research biologists are currently observing a very good late nesting effort on portions of both U.S. and Canadian prairies," stated Bruce Batt, DU's chief biologist.

"The rainfall continued through early July, so good wetland conditions should persist. The improved conditions since the survey assure we're not dealing with a 'bust.' But it won't be a bumper crop [of ducks] either."

Three species among 10 remain significantly below long-term goals and are of special concern for waterfowl managers, including scaup (both greater and lesser), American wigeon, and northern pintail. Field research is under way to determine how to cope with the declines.

Scaup were up two percent over 2003 at 3.8 million birds, but remain 39 per cent below goal. Wigeon dropped 22 percent from a year ago to two million birds, and are 33 percent below goal.

Pintail declined 15 percent to 2.2 million birds, but they remain above the all-time low of 1.8 million of two years ago. They remain 61 per cent below goal.

Mallards, the number one duck in the hunter's bag, were down seven per cent to 7.4 million birds, which is nine percent below goal.

Gadwall were up two per cent since 2003 at 2.6 million and are 70 per cent above goal. Canvasbacks were up 11 per cent to 617,000, and are 15 percent above goal.

Four remaining species all showed declines from 2003, redheads five percent, northern shovelers 22 percent, green-winged teal eight percent, and blue-winged teal 26 percent.

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Opening day for early migratory bird hunting seasons - dove, early Canada goose, special teal, and rail, moorhen, and snipe - will be Sept. 1, according to rules recently approved by the Ohio Wildlife Council.

Squirrel hunting season will open that day as well.

The dove season statewide will run through Oct. 17 for the first segment, with the remainder running Dec. 21 to Jan. 2. Daily limit is 15 birds.

Controlled dove hunts are planned for Pickerel Creek State Wildlife Area on Sandusky Bay, among others across the state. Details on these hunts are available by calling 1-800-WILDLIFE. The early goose season runs through Sept. 15 with a daily limit of five Canadas, except in mandatory reporting zones around Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area/Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and Killdeer Plains and Mosquito Creek state wildlife areas, where the limit will be two.

Early teal season runs through Sept. 9 with a daily bag of four. The Ohio Division of Wildlife said that the mid-week teal opener was set to coincide with other opening days.

Sora and Virginia rails and moorhens may be hunted through Nov. 9, with a daily bag of 25 rails and 15 moorhens. Snipe season will be open through Nov. 28, and again Dec. 6 through 25, with a daily bag of eight.

Woodcock season opens Oct. 15 and runs through Nov. 28, with a daily bag of three.

Hunting hours for the birds is sunrise to sunset, except on wildlife areas where special dove hours may be posted.



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