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Report: Waterfowl doing well in 'America's duck factory'

Lester Graham/Michigan Radio
In a narrow swath of grass in a roadside ditch, a mallard hen nests her second brood of the season, a rare event for these ducks. Her first ducklings were killed by a predator.

If you’re a duck, this is a good news, bad news story. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes surveys of the ten most abundant duck species every year. 

Brad Bortner is Chief of the Division of Migratory Bird Management at the Fish and Wildlife Service.  He says this year’s survey recorded 48.6 million ducks. That’s the highest number of ducks recorded since the agency started keeping records in 1955.

"We’ve had a series of very good years on the prairies, with excellent water conditions and great habitat management and restoration programs," he said.

He says more than half of North America’s duck breeding happens in the prairie pothole region of the Dakotas and eastern Montana.  It’s nicknamed America’s duck factory.

Bortner says species such as mallards, gadwalls and redheads are all doing great, and he says the breeding duck populations in Michigan are doing well, too.

So, that’s the good news.  The bad news: some other duck species are not doing so well. 

Brad Bortner says conditions that are good for some species are not good for others.  Diving ducks hang out in deeper wetlands, and there was enough water to support them.  But the shallow wetlands dried up.

"We had a loss of temporary and shallow wetlands because of lack of rain and the mild winter that has affected breeding habitat for some of the early nesting dabbling species," he said.

The survey finds there were drastic wetland declines in some areas of the prairie regions. Brad Bortner says habitat loss is a big concern.

"The challenges for ducks are loss of habitat through agriculture and other development," he said.

But at the moment, Brad Bortner says the high numbers for many duck species are a pretty good sign.  He expects hunters and bird watchers will see plenty of ducks this fall.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.