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Missouri duck numbers at all time high

From Missouri Department of Conservation

-- The number of breeding ducks surpassed all previous records this year, setting the stage for a bountiful harvest. All Missouri hunters need now is the right weather to push ducks into the Show-Me State and keep them here.

This year's North American breeding-duck population was estimated at 45.6 million. That is 35 percent above the long-term average. This was only the fifth time in the survey's history that the total duck population exceeded 40 million.

In fact, this year's breeding-duck population was the largest ever recorded since federal officials began counting waterfowl in 1955.

Missouri's most popular waterfowl species, the mallard, went to the nesting grounds with 9.2 million individual ducks last spring. Nearly as numerous were blue-winged teal, which entered the breeding season with 8.9 million ducks, up 91 percent from the long-term average.

The northern shoveler was the next-most-numerous duck species, with 4.4 million individuals. That was an impressive 98-percent increase from the long-term average.

However, redhead ducks take the prize for most-improved numbers this year. Their population estimate of 1.4 million is 106 percent above the long-term average.

Other duck species above long-term averages include Gadwalls, 3.3 million, up 80 percent; Green-winged teal, 2.9 million, up 47 percent; and Canvasbacks, 700,000, up 21 percent.

Numbers of northern pintails ñ 4.4 million ñ were up 26 percent from last year, but the progress they have made over the past few years only brings them even with the long-term average.

Only two of the top 10 hunted duck species were below their long-term averages this year. The combined total of 4.3 million lesser and greater scaup was about the same as last year but down 15 percent long-term. And while American wigeon remained fairly numerous at 2.1 million, their numbers were down 20 percent long-term.

Missouri's waterfowl season begins Oct. 29 in the North Zone, Nov. 5 in the Middle Zone and Nov. 24 in the South zone. Season lengths, bag limits and other details are available in the Waterfowl Hunting Digest 2011-2012, which is available wherever hunting permits are sold or at mdc.mo.gov/node/5646/.

This year's superabundance of ducks is partly due to a run of good luck with weather the past several years, resulting in abundant moisture across the prairie pothole region of north-central United States and central Canada. However, good luck with the weather would not have produced so many ducks ñ and millions of nongame birds that nest in the same areas ñ without sustained habitat restoration efforts by government and private conservation organizations.

The Department of Conservation along with Ducks Unlimited and other groups, has invested millions of dollars over the past 50 years to provide places for migrating ducks to rest and feed. MDC currently is restoring some of its oldest managed wetland areas through the Golden Anniversary Wetland Initiative. In addition to providing superb hunting opportunities, wetland conservation in Missouri improves ducks' physical condition and nesting success.

Similar efforts have helped protect and restore waterfowl nesting habitat. In the past five years alone, MDC has helped enhance and restore nearly a quarter of a million acres of prime breeding habitat in Canada and positively influenced an additional 1.2 million acres.

---By Jim Low

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