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North American duck numbers at all-time high

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outdoors Bemidji, 56619

Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

There's good news in duck-breeding country. Total duck-breeding numbers in the traditional duck breeding areas of the U.S. and Canada are at an all-time high of 45.6 million birds, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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That's an 11 percent increase over last year's 40.8 million ducks and is 35 percent above the long-term average.

Compared to the long-term average, blue-winged teal are up 91 percent, mallards up 22 percent, gadwalls up 80 percent, canvasbacks up 21 percent and redheads up 106 percent.

Even pintails have made a comeback. They're 26 percent above last year's numbers and 10 percent above the long-term average.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has made the breeding-ground surveys since 1955.

"The FWS has reported nearly unprecedented waterfowl habitat conditions and breeding duck population levels for 2011 -- the best in several years for some areas," said Ducks Unlimited's chief scientist Dale Humburg in a prepared statement. "Full wetlands and good upland cover will likely support a strong breeding effort, particularly in the prairies this year."

The increases are in part due to improved water conditions throughout the Prairie Pothole region of the Dakotas.

"The eastern Dakotas have become the Mecca for prairie ducks," Dr. Frank Rohwer, scientific director for Delta Waterfowl based in Bismarck, N.D., said in a prepared statement. "Pintails have reversed their long-term decline, driven largely by very high counts in the eastern Dakotas."

Despite all the good news, wigeons remained 20 percent below the long-term average. Scaup were up two percent from last year, but still 15 percent below the long-term average.

Here are other highlights from the traditional survey area report:

E Estimated mallard abundance was 9.2 million birds, a 9 percent increase from the 2010 estimate of 8.4 million birds.

E Blue-winged teal estimated abundance was a record 8.9 million, which was 41 percent above the 2010 estimate of 6.3 million.

E The northern pintail estimate of 4.4 million was 26 percent above the 2010 estimate.

E The total pond estimate (Prairie Canada and the North-central U.S. combined) was 8.1 million, 22 percent higher than the 2010 estimate and 62 percent above the long-term average.

While all of this is good news for ducks, many of those ducks no longer migrate through or stop in Minnesota. That has led to a slow decline in duck-hunter numbers and low harvests in recent years.

Sam Cook is the outdoor columnist for The Duluth News Tribune. The Duluth News Tribune and the Bemidji Pioneer are both owned by Forum Communications Company.

There's good news in duck-breeding country. Total duck-breeding numbers in the traditional duck breeding areas of the U.S. and Canada are at an all-time high of 45.6 million birds, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

That's an 11 percent increase over last year's 40.8 million ducks and is 35 percent above the long-term average.

Compared to the long-term average, blue-winged teal are up 91 percent, mallards up 22 percent, gadwalls up 80 percent, canvasbacks up 21 percent and redheads up 106 percent.

Even pintails have made a comeback. They're 26 percent above last year's numbers and 10 percent above the long-term average.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has made the breeding-ground surveys since 1955.

"The FWS has reported nearly unprecedented waterfowl habitat conditions and breeding duck population levels for 2011 -- the best in several years for some areas," said Ducks Unlimited's chief scientist Dale Humburg in a prepared statement. "Full wetlands and good upland cover will likely support a strong breeding effort, particularly in the prairies this year."

The increases are in part due to improved water conditions throughout the Prairie Pothole region of the Dakotas.

"The eastern Dakotas have become the Mecca for prairie ducks," Dr. Frank Rohwer, scientific director for Delta Waterfowl based in Bismarck, N.D., said in a prepared statement. "Pintails have reversed their long-term decline, driven largely by very high counts in the eastern Dakotas."

Despite all the good news, wigeons remained 20 percent below the long-term average. Scaup were up two percent from last year, but still 15 percent below the long-term average.

Here are other highlights from the traditional survey area report:

- Estimated mallard abundance was 9.2 million birds, a 9 percent increase from the 2010 estimate of 8.4 million birds.

- Blue-winged teal estimated abundance was a record 8.9 million, which was 41 percent above the 2010 estimate of 6.3 million.

- The northern pintail estimate of 4.4 million was 26 percent above the 2010 estimate.

- The total pond estimate (Prairie Canada and the North-central U.S. combined) was 8.1 million, 22 percent higher than the 2010 estimate and 62 percent above the long-term average.

While all of this is good news for ducks, many of those ducks no longer migrate through or stop in Minnesota. That has led to a slow decline in duck-hunter numbers and low harvests in recent years.

Sam Cook is the outdoor columnist for The Duluth News Tribune. The Duluth News Tribune and the Bemidji Pioneer are both owned by Forum Communications Company.

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