The Department of Fish and Game (DFG) has completed its 2012 waterfowl breeding population survey. The results show that although the overall number of breeding ducks decreased, the number of mallards — the most abundant duck in the survey — increased 5 percent since last year.
“Surveys indicated an increase in mallard abundance and habitat conditions were good in most of northeastern California and good throughout the Central Valley, so we expect above-average production for all waterfowl species,” said DFG Waterfowl Program Biologist Melanie Weaver.
The total number of ducks (all species combined) decreased from 558,600 last year to 524,500 this year. The decline was attributed to lower numbers of gadwall and cinnamon teal. This estimate is 11 percent below the long-term average. The breeding population of mallards increased from 314,700 in 2011 to 381,900 this year. Mallard numbers are above their long-term average.
DFG biologists and pilots have conducted this annual survey using fixed-wing aircraft since 1955. The survey covers most of the suitable waterfowl nesting habitat in the state, including wetland and agricultural habitats in northeastern California, the Sacramento Valley, San Joaquin Valley, Suisun Marsh, Napa-Sonoma Marshes, the Delta and some foothill areas.
Most of California’s wintering duck population originates from breeding areas surveyed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in Alaska and Canada, and the results of those surveys should be available in July. DFG survey information, along with similar data from other Pacific Flyway states, is used by the USFWS when setting hunting season frameworks for regulations in California and other Pacific Flyway states.
The federal regulation frameworks specify the earliest and latest permissible hunting dates, maximum season lengths and maximum bag limits. Once DFG receives the USFWS estimates and the frameworks for waterfowl hunting regulations from the USFWS, DFG will make a recommendation to the Fish and Game Commission (FGC) regarding this year’s waterfowl hunting regulations. The FGC traditionally sets waterfowl hunting regulations at its August meeting.