Breeding waterfowl numbers “about average” in an unusual spring
MADISON – The spring 2012 waterfowl breeding picture was marked by an early spring, unusual weather, and dry conditions, which state wildlife officials say, created a challenge to survey breeding ducks in 2012. Despite that difficulty they say breeding waterfowl numbers appear to be “about average.”
“Overall, wetland numbers this spring were down but in Wisconsin our abundant permanent water contained in 15,000 lakes reduces the impact of dry conditions on the ducks,” said Kent Van Horn, Department of Natural Resources migratory waterfowl biologist. “Some areas have good wetland conditions while other areas are still very dry. But despite those dry conditions across important duck breeding areas in Wisconsin, this spring, the total breeding duck numbers in Wisconsin appear to be near the average of the last 10 years. 2012 should provide fair to good duck production across Wisconsin. Summer rains will be particularly important this year to maintain brood rearing habitat.”
Wisconsin’s warm weather in March triggered an early duck migration and breeding activity among mallards and Canada geese. However, in April a return of cold temperatures stalled the breeding activity of blue-winged teal and the migration of other duck species through Wisconsin. As a result, the spring waterfowl survey was initiated earlier than normal on April 23 in order to have the best count of breeding mallards; blue-winged teal that were still in migration through the state were counted.
Wisconsin had a dry, mild winter and entered a March where temperatures were 14 to 16 degrees above normal. Winter precipitation was 25 percent below normal which provided fewer temporary and seasonal wetlands when ducks arrived in Wisconsin this spring. However, rain did come in some northern and central state areas and the spring (March- May) rainfall was 15 percent above normal statewide, which filled seasonal wetlands in some regions.
Variation from year to year in wetland conditions and breeding ducks is part of the natural cycle in the world of wetland wildlife. Wetlands need dry periods to maintain long-term productivity and ducks are able to adapt to changing wetland conditions among years and across the continent. Conservation dollars and efforts of waterfowl hunters over the decades have protected and managed wetland and upland habitats important to breeding ducks. Protection of these areas even in dry years provides the setting for good duck responses when the rainfall increases during wet years.
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