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Flying high: Spring waterfowl count indicates record numbers

July 13, 2012
By Kelly Fosness - DMG Writer ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

BARAGA - Results from the annual Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, conducted in May by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service, show duck populations in North America are the highest ever recorded.

In a July 3 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service news release, the 2012 "Trends in Duck Breeding Populations" report stated this year's estimate of 48.6 million is "significantly higher" than the 45.6 million birds estimated in 2011 and 43 percent above the long-term average.

On the local level, wildlife officials have seen an upward pattern as well, reporting increased production over last year's numbers.

Article Photos

This pair of ducks swims near the Fifth Street Dock in Copper Harbor in late June. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the national duck population is 48.6 million, a ‘significantly higher’ total than from the last survey. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)

"(In total) we're looking at 20 percent above our long-term average, which is from 1991 to 2011," said Bill Scullon, wildlife biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "We're looking at 772,956 ducks."

The key DNR officials look for in Michigan is that they estimated a population just over 439,000, Scullon said.

Michigan is a big harvest and production state for mallards,"That's 22 percent above the long-term average and 70 percent above the 2011 estimate," he said.

A number of factors come into play when duck populations either increase or decrease. One involves wetland conditions.

When conducting the annual spring breeding survey, Scullen said they utilize fixed-wing aircrafts to fly across the upper and lower peninsulas, looking for breeding waterfowl.

"When we're flying the planes, we're looking for waters whether they're temporary or permanent, lakes or ponds," he said. "If we're at a low water cycle, there's not much available habitat."

If the weather is bad, he added, it's difficult for flights.

"We are seeing increased production because we have more water," he said.

However, he said, the number of ponds is down 21 percent from last year.

Wildlife Research Biologist David Luukkonen, of the DNR Rose Lake Research Center in East Lansing, said the number of species of waterfowl in Michigan varies from year to year, however the most common include Canada geese, mallards and swans.

"We also get reasonable numbers of wood ducks and teal," he said.

Scullon said the spring survey estimated a population of 278,000 Canada geese, which is a 30 percent increase from last year and 30 percent above the long-term average.

Jim Manderfield, of Chassell, who is committee coordinator for the Copper Country Ducks Unlimited Chapter, said DU is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's waterfowl habitats.

"Ducks Unlimited is about supporting wetlands, mostly in Canada and the southern states where the ducks winter," he said. "Locally, we've raised about $35,000."

The Copper Country chapter, he said, holds several fundraisers during the year to help raise money; their largest being the Copper Country Ducks Unlimited Banquet in the fall.

"This year will be our 36th banquet," he said.

Manderfield, who resides on Chassell Bay, said he has a duck population of about 40 or so hanging around in his yard and they're equally divided between hens and males.

Come fall, he said, he'll have anywhere from 70 to 100 before they migrate out.

Manderfield said there are "considerable" duck and goose hunting opportunities in the area near lakes and wetland areas.

As a reminder to hunters, Scullon said they can assist the DNR in waterfowl management by participating in leg-band reporting.

Leg bands, which are attached to the leg of the goose or duck, contain a unique number for each particular bird.

"We know, when we handle that bird, the age and sex," he said, noting when a hunter reports the number, DNR officials collect information as to where it was located. "It will show over time what happened to that bird and where it went."

The band tracks the bird over its flight history, Scullon said.

"This is part of a concerted effort we do statewide," he said. "We just did a leg-banding project in Ontonagon, banding 78 geese."

The reason leg-banding reports are important, he said, is because the DNR can track where the birds are located, where they come from and where they're produced.

"It helps us predict where these birds fly, where they migrate to and from," he said. "We can determine survival from that as well."

When asked if duck hunting is a popular sport in the U.P., Scullon said, it is somewhat.

"But it isn't as big as deer hunting," he said. "But there are a lot of hunters interested in it."

For more information, visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website at



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