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Whither The Puddle Duck?

2012 Midwinter Waterfowl Survey results show decline, possibly caused by mild winter

A press release from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection:

Staff from the DEEP conducted the annual Midwinter Waterfowl Survey the week of January 2, 2012.  The survey is conducted throughout the Atlantic Flyway, and is used as an index of long-term wintering waterfowl trends.  The Atlantic Flyway is a bird migration route that generally follows the Atlantic Coast of North America and the Appalachian Mountains.  In Connecticut, the survey is conducted from a helicopter and a census is obtained from the coast, the three major river systems, and selected inland lakes and reservoirs.

Survey conditions for the 2012 Midwinter Waterfowl Survey were relatively poor.  The weeks preceding the survey were unusually mild, and most inland bodies of water were not frozen.  The Midwinter Survey is designed to obtain an index of wintering birds that have been pushed to the coast when inland waters freeze.  When inland waters are unfrozen and open, waterfowl are distributed in many areas that are not surveyed.  Further, flying conditions on the day of the survey were less than optimal with heavy, gusty winds and strong sun, making for difficult survey conditions.

The total number of ducks observed during the survey – 15,893 – was well lower than the 22,926 counted in 2011.  This is in agreement with the general paucity of waterfowl on the coast that many hunters were reporting.  The puddle duck count of 4,567 was in concert with the recent five-year average of 4,734, but well below the record 6,661 counted in 2011.  Puddle ducks, which are typically found in fresh shallow marshes and rivers, include the mallard, American black duck, American wigeon, and gadwall.

Following a recent trend, many puddle ducks were observed in urban sanctuaries, often associated with supplemental feeding activities.  “The Department discourages citizens from feeding waterfowl for a number of reasons, including increased risk of disease transmission and potential for poor nutrition,” said Rick Jacobson, Director for the DEEP Wildlife Division.  The Department has published a brochure, “Do Not Feed Waterfowl,” that outlines the potential hazards of feeding waterfowl. It is available on the DEEP’s Web site at www.ct.gov/dep/lib/deep/wildlife/pdf_files/game/NoFeedWF.pdf.

The scaup count was one of the lowest in the past 15 years. Scaup wintering numbers in Connecticut continue to be lower than historical counts.  The decline in the Continental scaup population continues to be of concern for biologists nationwide.  Habitat changes on the scaup’s breeding grounds in boreal regions of North America may be a factor in the long-term decline of the population. Mergansers were less abundant than what was observed in 2011 and under the five-year average.

Atlantic brant numbers were higher than in 2011 and above the recent average. Canada goose counts were once again high for this survey.

Species

2012 2011 
Five-year Avg. Atlantic Brant 1,700 1,600 1,300 Black Duck 2,100 3,500 2,700 Bufflehead 1,200 1,200 900 Canada Goose 4,100 3,88 3,500 Canvasback 0 100 100 Mallard 2,000 2,600 1,800 Merganser 900 1,100 1,400 Mute Swan 700 700 800 Long-tailed Duck 300 600 300 Common Goldeneye 800 1,000 700 Scaup 1,000 5,400 3,000

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