“Although the overall duck population remains at around percent above the long-term average, that population has declined for the past two years,” said Larry Reynolds, Waterfowl Study Leader for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
This is not the best news for duck hunters in our part of the country as we want to hear wing beats overhead in the dark and see plenty of ducks with cupped wings over decoys.
“We’re looking at a good duck population but realistically, the numbers this year declined percent from last year," Reynolds said. "Overall, the duck population is in pretty good shape this year when we compare it to the long term average.”
Except for one species, American widgeon, which was up percent, all the other species counted in this year’s survey are down this year compared to last year. For example, mallards are down percent; gadwall down 31 percent; green winged teal down 16 percent; blue winged teal down 18 percent; northern pintail down 18 percent; shovelor down percent; redhead down 10 percent; canvasback down 6 percent and scaup down 9 percent.
On the positive side, however, over the long term average, all species except pintail (down 40 percent) and scaup (down 20 percent) are above average.
This year’s regulations are basically the same as last year, with one rather curious exception.
“Although pintail numbers are down, the daily limit for pintails this year will be two while last year it was one bird per day," Reynolds said. "The explanation for this is that we set our regulations in April before we fly the survey, so our regulations are a year behind. The population of pintails was right on the border between one and two birds leaning slightly to the two-bird regulation. However, based on the survey this year, next year hunters will be limited to one pintail per day. It can get kind of confusing to up the limit in a year when populations decrease but it’s the timing of when season regulations are set that throws things off.”
We visited with Reynolds about the on-going teal season where surveys showed a lack of teal in Louisiana this year.
“Teal have been down three of the last four years," Reynolds said. "But again, they are still above the long term average and as long as there are 4.7 million teal, we’re going to have a 16 day season. Once the numbers drop below 4.7 million, season will be reduced to a nine-day season and should they fall below3.3 million, our teal season will be closed.”
When ducks begin flying south, cold weather will dictate when and how far south they travel. Should mild conditions be in evidence, the birds are not as likely to go as far south as they would should we have really cold weather. In addition, growing conditions for duck food in our part of the country is critical for ducks to have something to eat once they get here. Not enough water cuts down on the food supply while too much water tends to scatter the birds more.
“One bright spot we saw in flying the survey in Louisiana is that we have some pretty good habitat conditions,” Reynolds said. “Things dried out enough during the growing season in the coastal marsh to produce some good food sources and these were visible from the plane.
“Rainfall we have gotten recently really helps the situation, especially along the coast. However, conditions are not quite as good as you move north from the coast. Catahoula Lake looks good as far as food production and water levels while other areas up state don’t look as good.
“What I’m hoping for is that we get enough cold weather prior to duck season opening to send the ducks down our way and the right amount of water to keep them here.”