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Late Rain Helped Ducks on Prairie Breeding Grounds


August 4, 2003

Nick Throckmorton
, USFWS Public Affairs, 202/208-5636

Although water levels on the prairies were low in late winter, spring rains on the breeding grounds brought the total number of ponds above its long-term average, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's annual survey.

The total population of breeding ducks in parts of Canada and the northern United States rose to approximately 36.2 million birds in areas that have been surveyed since 1955. That number represents a increase of 16 percent from last year's population of 31.2 million birds, and was 9 percent above the long-term average.

"Water levels really looked good in late spring and duck breeding populations are up from last year," said Service Director Steve Williams. "Most species in the midcontinent region were above their long-term averages, but we continue to have concerns over the status of pintails and scaup, whose populations remain below their long term averages."

The Waterfowl Breeding Ground Population and Habitat Survey, the largest and most comprehensive survey of its kind in the world, samples 1.3 million square miles across the north- central United States, south-central and northern Canada, and Alaska. The survey estimates the number of ducks in the continent's most important nesting grounds. Annual survey results help guide the Service in managing its waterfowl conservation programs under authority of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Service works in partnership with state representatives from the four flyways - the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific - that waterfowl and other birds use during their migrations to establish regulatory frameworks for waterfowl hunting season lengths, dates and bag limits.

The breeding population estimate for mallards in the traditional survey area was 7.9 million birds, largely unchanged from last year and remained near the long-term average. Surveys of mallards conducted in the Great Lakes states (Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) indicated the population had decreased from 1 million in 2002 to 851,000 this year. The combined estimates of mallards from the traditional survey area and from the Great Lakes states (8.8 million) are used for setting duck hunting regulations through the Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) process.

Blue-winged teal numbers; at 5.5 million; increased 31 percent over last year's estimate and 23 percent above their long-term average. The breeding population estimate for green-winged teal of 2.7 million birds was 46 percent above its long-term average and at its second highest level since 1955.

The Breeding Ground Survey also record record increases in the number of northern shovelers at 3.6 million birds up 56 percent. Pintails, increased by 43% over 2002 estimates to 2.6 million.

Many other species' populations did not change much from last year, including gadwall (2.5 million, 55 percent above its long-term average), wigeon (2.6 million), green-winged teal (at 2.7 million), redheads (0.6 million), canvasbacks (0.6 million) and scaup (3.7 million).

Habitat conditions for breeding waterfowl have greatly improved over last year in most of the prairie survey areas. These improved conditions are reflected in the numbers of ponds counted this year. The estimate of May ponds (U.S. Prairies and Prairie and parkland Canada combined) of 5.2 million is 91 percent higher than last year and 7 percent above the long-term average. Numbers of ponds in Canada (3.5 million) and the U.S. (1.7 million) were above 2002 estimates. Canadian ponds were similar to the 1974-2002 average, while ponds in the U.S. were 10% above the 1974-2002 average.

The entire 2002 Trends in Waterfowl Breeding Populations report can be downloaded from the Service's Web site at

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 542 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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