Feathered Friends: More ducks may make their way south this fall

9:26 am | July 16, 2012

We’re still a few months away from the start of waterfowl migration, but there are some indications that more ducks may be making their way south this fall than did so in the autumn of 2011.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/William Vinge
A male Canvasback looks vigilant in his wetland domain. Results of a recent survey indicate more Canvasbacks may migrate south this fall, which could produce excitement for faithful waterfowl watchers in landlocked states like Tennessee.

Although breeding habitat conditions have declined from previous years, the 2012 “Trends in Duck Breeding Populations” report estimates waterfowl production in North America’s duck factory is at a record high. This year’s report estimate of 48.6 million is significantly higher than the 45.6 million birds estimated last year and 43 percent above the long-term average.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Steve Hillebrand
A female Northern Shoveler plays coy with the photographer’s camera. Shovelers are named for their spade-shaped bills.

Not many species of waterfowl remain in Northeast Tennessee during the summer months. Mallards and Canada Geese, which are permanent residents in the region, are the two most common waterfowl species. The Wood Duck is also a year-round resident and a nesting waterfowl during the summer months. There are occasional nesting reports for such ducks as Blue-winged Teal and Hooded Merganser.

This annual report summarizes information about the status of duck populations and wetland habitats collected by wildlife biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Canadian Wildlife Service for the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey. The survey samples more than two million square miles of waterfowl habitat across the United States and Canada.

Survey highlights from the north-central United States, south-central and northern Canada, and Alaska (the traditional survey area) include the following population estimates:

• Mallard abundance is 10.6 million — a 15 percent increase over 2011 and a 39 percent increase over the long-term average of 7.6 million.

• Gadwall abundance is 10 percent above the 2011 estimate, and 96 percent above the long-term average.

• American Wigeon abundance increased 3 percent from 2011, but remains 17 percent below the long-term average.

• Abundance of Green-winged Teal and Blue-winged Teal came in at around 3.5 million and 9.2 million, which shows a 20 percent and 3 percent increase above their 2011 numbers. Both species continue to remain well above their long-term averages by 74 percent and 94 percent, respectively.

• Abundance for Northern Shovelers is 5 million, which is 8 percent above 2011, and 111 percent above their long-term average.

• Redhead abundance was unchanged from last year but 89 percent above the long-term average.

• Canvasback abundance was 0.8 million, which was 10 percent above last year’s estimate and 33 percent above their long-term average.

One species — the Northern Pintail — didn’t enjoy as rosy a forecast as some of its fellow ducks. Northern Pintails are at 3.5 million which is 22 percent below the 2011 estimate and 14 percent below the long-term average.

The combined Lesser and Greater Scaup abundance estimate was 5.2 million, which was 21 percent above the 2011 estimate and 4 percent above the long-term average.

In the eastern survey area — northeastern United States and eastern Canada — the estimated abundance for American Black Duck, Green-winged Teal and merganser populations showed an increase from 2011 estimates in this area. That same survey, however, showed declines in abundance for Mallards, goldeneyes and Ring-necked Ducks.

Habitat conditions observed across the survey areas during the 2012 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey were characterized by average to below-average moisture, especially in the southern portions, due primarily to a mild winter and an early spring.

The 2012 Survey’s estimate of ponds for the north-central United States was 1.7 million, which was 49 percent below the 2011 estimate of 3.2 million, and similar to the long-term average. Significant decreases in wetland numbers and conditions occurred in the U.S. Prairies during 2012. Nearly all of the north-central U.S. habitat was rated as good to excellent in 2011; however, only the habitat in the coteau region of North and South Dakota was rated as good in 2012, and no areas were rated as excellent habitat this year. Drastic wetland declines in western South Dakota and Montana resulted in mostly poor to fair habitat conditions.

The annual Survey guides the Service’s waterfowl conservation programs under authority of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Service works in partnership with state biologists from the four flyways — the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific — to establish regulatory frameworks for waterfowl hunting season lengths, dates and bag limits, derived in part from the data gathered through this annual survey.

The entire “Trends in Duck Breeding Populations, 1955- 2012” report can be downloaded from the Service’s website at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds.

When the days and nights do start to get cooler and most of our summer songbirds have returned south for a tropical stay during the winter months, I enjoy turning my attention to waterfowl. Some of my favorite ducks include Northern Shoveler, Canvasback and Bufflehead. Two of my favorite locations for looking for waterfowl are Wilbur Lake in Carter County and the pond at Erwin Fishery Park in Unicoi County.


I got an update on July 12 from Barbara Lake about all the bird activity at her home off Gap Creek Road in Hampton.

“We have two bluebird eggs as of this morning and an explosion of hummingbirds,” she wrote.

Barbara said she has four feeders up — two on the front porch, one on the clothesline by the shed and one on a shepherd’s hook near the driveway.

“The hummingbirds prefer the two on the front porch, but they also seem to like the one I recently put on the clothesline since they sit on it a lot,” Barbara wrote. “The one on the front porch on the den end of the house is their favorite. I filled it half full about 3:30 yesterday and it was empty by 7!”

She said there are too many birds to allow for a precise count. But the fact that the hummers are quickly emptying her feeders of sugar water convinces her that they are many birds present.

Barbara and her husband, Jerry, enjoy watching the activity in some of their bird houses inside on their own television thanks to a special camera installed inside the boxes.


I observed a family of Eastern Bluebirds during a stop at Bell Cemetery in Limestone Cove in Unicoi County. I counted six young bluebirds with the still-spotted breasts and one adult female bluebird. They were perched on different fence posts enclosing a field adjacent to the cemetery. I also counted at least 15 Chipping Sparrows and two Eastern Phoebes during my stop.


To share a sighting, ask a question or make a comment, call me at 297-9077 or email me at ahoodedwarbler@aol. com. I am on Facebook at www. facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler.

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