The DNR announced on Monday survey results for state breeding ducks and geese, and also its ruffed grouse count. The agency also released details of the state's first August goose hunt.
From the DNR:
The state’s estimated breeding duck population was 683,000, the DNR announced Monday, compared with last year’s estimate of 469,000. This year’s estimate is 10 percent above the long-term average of 620,000 breeding ducks.
This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 293,000, 30 percent above last year’s estimate of 225,000 breeding mallards, 14 percent above the recent 10-year average and 30 percent above the long-term average.
The blue-winged teal population was 144,000 compared with 109,000 in 2012 but remained 33 percent below the long-term average of 216,000.
The combined populations of other ducks, such as wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads was 246,000, This was 82 percent higher than last year and 39 percent above the long-term average.
The estimated number of wetlands was 258,000, up 13 percent from last year, and 2 percent above the long-term average. “Although wetland numbers were average, conditions changed from extremely dry before May 1 to fairly wet by the end of May in most of the state,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist.
“Also, in a normal year, ducks begin arriving back to Minnesota in April or early May to begin the nesting season,” Cordts said. “But with record late ice-out and significant snow cover present in some areas until early May, the spring migration and nesting season were delayed so we had to delay the survey about two weeks.”
Meanwhile, this year’s Canada goose population was estimated at 250,000, which was considerably less than last year’s estimate of 416,000. The number of breeding Canada geese in the state is estimated via a helicopter survey of nesting Canada geese in April. The survey, which includes most of the state except for the Twin Cities metropolitan area, counts Canada geese on randomly selected plots located in prairie, transition and forested areas.
Although this year’s estimate was lower than recent years, much of that change could be the result of the spring weather conditions that may have impacted goose distribution and abundance in the state. Cold temperatures and April snowfall combined with a late ice-out reduced nesting success and effort, reducing the number of goslings. During the past 10 years, the Canada goose population’s average has ranged from 275,000 to 350,000.
“While that should not impact the population in the future, fewer young geese in the early fall usually makes goose hunting more difficult for hunters,” said Paul Telander, DNR wildlife section chief. “The bottom line is our Canada goose population remains higher than we’d like it to be and we’ll continue to maximize hunting opportunities this fall.”
The Minnesota waterfowl report can be viewed online here.
August goose hunt set
Minnesota's first August Canada goose season will be held Saturday, Aug. 10, to Sunday, Aug. 25, the DNR said.
“The state’s Canada goose population is very high and exceeds our statewide goal,” said Cordts. “We have continued agricultural depredation concerns in the western portion of the state with large numbers of Canada geese. This is one more option for us to try and increase our harvest of Canada geese.”
Hunting will be restricted to an intensive harvest zone in west-central Minnesota. The daily bag limit will be 10 Canada geese with no possession limit. Shooting hours will be from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset. A small game hunting license, special goose permit and state waterfowl stamp are required.
Ruffed grouse down
Ruffed grouse drumming counts were down across most of the bird’s range.
“This decrease was not unexpected because the ruffed grouse population is still in the declining phase of its 10-year cycle,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse biologist. “Drum counts peaked most recently in 2009.”
Drumming counts dropped from 1.1 to 0.9 per stop in the northeast, which is the forest bird’s core range in Minnesota. Counts in the northwest declined from 0.9 in 2012 to 0.7 drums per stop in 2013. Drumming counts did not change significantly in the central hardwoods or southeast, with an average of 0.9 and 0.4 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. Drumming counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population.
This year, observers recorded 0.9 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2011 and 2012 were 1.7 and 1.0 drums per stop, respectively. Counts vary from about 0.8 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 1.9 during years of high abundance.
The number of birds present during the fall hunting season also depends upon nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer. Drumming did occur later this year because of the late spring, suggesting that nesting likely occurred later than normal.
Minnesota frequently is the nation’s top ruffed grouse producer. On average, 115,000 hunters harvest 545,000 ruffed grouse in the state each year, 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 the 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.
Sharp-tailed grouse counts decrease slightly
Sharp-tailed grouse counts in the northwest, the bird’s primary range in Minnesota, were similar to 2012. Counts in the east-central region declined significantly.
Observers look for male sharptails displaying on traditional mating areas, called leks or dancing grounds.
Despite several years of declining numbers, this year’s statewide average of 9.2 grouse counted per dancing ground was similar to the long-term average since 1980. The 2009 average of 13.6 was as high as during any year since 1980. During the last 25 years, the sharp-tailed grouse index has been as low as seven birds counted per dancing ground.
Overall, sharptail populations appear to have declined over the long term as a result of habitat deterioration. In recent years, the DNR has increased prescribed burning and shearing that keep trees from overtaking the open brush lands that sharp-tailed grouse need to thrive.