Day 55: What we already know

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We always look forward to the results of the monthly aerial waterfowl surveys by the LDWF, but we didn’t need one this month to know what was going on. Numbers of ducks are down. Way down.  The 1.85 million ducks estimated statewide on this month’s survey is only 55% of last January’s total of 3.38 million, and is about 39% lower than the most recent 5-year average.

It is the lowest January estimate since 2009’s total and that is the 5th lowest January survey estimate, exceeding those of 1983, 1987, and 2008 as well as 2009. It is not typical for estimates of total ducks to decline from December to January especially to such a degree. However, despite some flashes of winter, temperatures in December were warmer than average, regular rainfall has maintained widespread available flooded habitat, and birds have clearly dispersed from the surveyed region.

If you have been in the duck blind much you already know this, but the official numbers just confirm it. The mallard estimate is the second lowest on record; only the 59,000 in 2009 is lower. It is far lower than the 5-year and long-term averages for mallards on this survey, which are 145,000 and 363,000 respectively.

While it has been bad everywhere, it looks like our area was even worse than the average.

The decline in ducks counted from December to January was even greater on the NE Louisiana survey, where only 106,000 ducks and 88,000 geese were counted on selected habitats. That is less than a third of the 363,000 ducks and 199,000 geese counted in December. The big concentrations south of Grand Cote and between Bonita and Mer Rouge were gone, and the largest groups of ducks were counted east of Ouachita WMA (although far fewer than in December), and at Catahoula NWR. Most abundant species were gadwall, shoveler, and ring-necked duck. Extensive flooded agricultural habitat was evident and there was extensive flooding in the major river systems.

Here’s one surprise. Contrary to large declines in ducks seen in coastal Louisiana, Catahoula Lake, NE LA, and on the scaup survey, 11,300 ducks were counted in NW LA, primarily on the locks, lakes, oxbows, and fields along the Red River and upper Toledo Bend reservoir. That is a 15% increase from the December survey,

Mid-winter waterfowl surveys in other states, and communication with colleagues showed Arkansas’ estimate was below average; Mississippi’s about average, Missouri’s was twice the most recent 5-year average, and Tennessee and Kentucky are reporting above average number of ducks. Extensive shallow flooding is evident over broad expanses of the Mississippi Flyway from southern Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. Combined with far warmer than average temperatures, the winter distribution of ducks this January appears to have shifted northward.

 

Banded