Plenty of ducks, not enough habitat

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 30, 2007

It is indeed a tale of two situations when it comes to the duck season forecast. It is the best of times in terms of duck production. It is the worst of times in terms of duck habitat conditions in the Southeast, which has been wilted by a multi-year drought.

The abundance of water led to impressive breeding numbers, with a survey estimate of 41.2 million birds for the 10 most common duck species &8212; a 14-percent increase. Numbers for redheads, canvasbacks and shovelers reached record highs, while the benchmark for duck counts &8212; the mallards &8212; increased 14 percent to 8.3 million, which is 11 percent above the long-term average.

Gadwalls, blue-winged teal and green-winged teal also had impressive gains, while wigeon numbers soared 29 percent. The only two species that didn&8217;t show a significant jump were scaup and pintail, which had numbers similar to last year.

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Despite those impressive duck numbers, Alabama may not see any benefit because of the drought that has severely limited the waterfowl habitat.

The Tennessee River Valley is one of the areas that has suffered through the severe drought and it has already affected the habitat at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, according to Refuge Manager Dwight Cooley.

Cooley said birds may show up during their migration south, but if the drought continues they won&8217;t hang around long.

On the south end of the state, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta complex will have water to hunt, but the birds might not make it that far south without cold weather.

David Rainer is with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.