Well, it's not great news for waterfowl hunters, but it's better news for ruffed grouse hunters.
Minnesota's breeding mallard and blue-winged teal populations are down. The Canada goose population is stable.
Meanwhile, the state's ruffed grouse spring drumming counts were significantly higher than last year across most of the bird’s range, which was surprising.
“Ruffed grouse drums increased 34 percent from the previous year, with the increase happening in the northern part of the state,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse project leader. “This may signal the start of an upswing in the grouse cycle that since 2009 has been in the declining phase.”
Here's more from DNR news releases:
Minnesota’s breeding mallard population counts are down slightly from last year while other species saw higher declines, according to the results of the annual Minnesota Department of Natural Resources spring waterfowl surveys.
This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 257,000, which is 12 percent below last year’s estimate of 293,000 breeding mallards, 1 percent below the recent 10-year average and 13 percent above the long-term average.
The blue-winged teal population is 102,000 this year compared with 144,000 in 2013 and remains 53 percent below the long-term average of 215,000 blue-winged teal.
The combined populations of other ducks, such as ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads was 116,000, which is 53 percent lower than last year and 35 percent below the long-term average.
The estimated number of wetlands was 343,000, up 33 percent from last year, and 28 percent above the long-term average.
“While we’re seeing declines in this year’s counts, the survey results can be affected by weather and visibility of waterfowl from aircraft,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. “Continental waterfowl population estimates will be released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later this summer and may provide a better indicator of what hunters could expect this fall.”
The same waterfowl survey has been conducted each year since 1968 to provide an annual index of breeding duck abundance. The survey covers 40 percent of the state that includes much of the best remaining duck breeding habitat in Minnesota.
This year’s Canada goose population was estimated at 244,000 geese, which was similar to last year’s estimate of 250,000 geese. This does not include an additional estimated 17,500 breeding Canada geese in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
“Although this year’s population estimate is similar to last year’s estimate, goose production, or the number of goslings that hatch, will be better than last year,” Cordts said. “This year’s colder than normal temperatures delayed some goose nesting, particularly in the northern portions of the state.”
Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts increased 34 percent from last year, which may signal the start of an upswing in the grouse cycle, according to a DNR survey.
The increase is consistent with changes typical of the 10-year grouse cycle. The most recent peak in drum counts occurred in 2009. The cycle is less pronounced in the more southern regions of the state, near the edge of the ruffed grouse range.
Compared to last year’s survey, 2014 survey results for ruffed grouse indicated increases in the northeast survey region, which is the core of grouse range in Minnesota, from 0.9 drums per stop in 2013 to 1.3 in 2014. Drumming counts in the northwest increased from 0.7 drums per stop in 2013 to 1.2 in 2014. Drumming counts did not increase in the central hardwoods or southeast, with an average of 0.8 and 0.3 drums per stop, respectively.
Ruffed grouse populations, which tend to rise and fall on a 10-year cycle, are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions. This year observers recorded 1.1 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2012 and 2013 were 1.0 and 0.9, respectively. Counts vary from about 0.6 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 2.0 during years of high abundance.
Drumming counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population. The number of birds present during the fall hunting season also depends upon nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer.
Minnesota frequently is the nation’s top ruffed grouse producer. On average, 115,000 hunters harvest 545,000 ruffed grouse in Minnesota each year, also making it the state's most popular game bird. During the peak years of 1971 and 1989, hunters harvested more than 1 million ruffed grouse. Michigan and Wisconsin, which frequently field more hunters than Minnesota, round out the top three states in ruffed grouse harvest.
One reason for Minnesota’s status as a top grouse producer is an abundance of aspen and other ruffed grouse habitat, much of it located on county, state and national forests, where public hunting is allowed. An estimated 11.5 million of the state's 16.3 million acres of forest are grouse habitat.
For the past 65 years, DNR biologists have monitored ruffed grouse populations. This year, DNR staff and cooperators from 11 organizations surveyed 121 routes across the state.