State of the Birds report shows pintail decline, other waterfowl doing well

Most duck hunters realize the overall population of the birds they hunt are doing historically well. But one species is struggling.

A new report from the U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative shows encouraging population gains for some wetland-dependent bird species.

At the same time, the report’s authors warn about the future implications of the continuing loss of ephemeral or temporary wetlands in the prairies of the United States and Canada. Some species such as northern pintail, which rely heavily on ephemeral wetlands, have experienced long-term declines.

The State of the Birds 2014 reports that some wetland-dependent bird populations are at or near historic high levels, including mallards, gadwall, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal and northern shovelers, according to annual breeding bird surveys conducted in the United States and Canada.

“Many wetland bird species are doing very well,” said DU’s Chief Scientist Dr. Scott Yaich. “We can at least partially attribute this to collective wetland conservation efforts across the continent. But, two decades of unprecedented above-average rainfall in many key breeding areas are in large part responsible for duck population increases that are masking the loss of wetland habitats documented by other studies. We continue to be very concerned about the accelerating loss of wetlands in important areas for birds and what that will mean when we inevitably enter another dry period.”

The report points out that ephemeral wetlands in the U.S. Prairie Pothole Region declined by 74,340 acres between 1997 and 2009. This region is North America’s most important breeding area for waterfowl and is a top conservation priority area for Ducks Unlimited. Northern pintail populations have been declining for several decades and are currently 20 percent below their long-term average.

The State of the Birds 2014 is authored by the U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative-a 23-member partnership of government agencies and organizations dedicated to advancing bird conservation. The report is based on extensive reviews of population data from long-term monitoring. It looks to birds as indicators of ecosystem health by examining population trends of species dependent on one of seven habitats: grasslands, forests, wetlands, oceans, aridlands, islands and coasts. This year’s report is also a five-year check-in on the indicators presented in the inaugural 2009 State of the Birds report. More information is available at stateofthebirds.org.

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