An estimated 2.21 million ducks in state just before start of second split on Dec. 19

Ducks hang on a strap inside Jed Broussard’s duck blind after getting picked up during a hunt opening weekend of the second split of the Coastal Zone. The Delcambre outdoorsman has a camp at Pecan Island and a duck hunting lease near Grand Chenier.

There were 2 1/2 times more ducks in the state the week before the second split for duck hunting started than there were a month earlier in Louisiana.

Larry Reynolds, waterfowl study leader for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and his staff conducted an aerial waterfowl survey along the state’s coastline Dec. 14-16. Other areas were surveyed Dec. 10-11 and Dec. 11.

They pegged the estimated number of ducks in the Sportsman’s Paradise at that time at 2.1 million with an overwhelming majority — 1,195,000 — in southwest Louisiana. While it was far more than the 855,000 seen in November, the number was 14 percent below the estimate in December 2019 as well as the most recent 10-year average of 2.57 million, Reynolds noted in the detailed report released Dec. 18.

Also, he pointed out, the current overwintering population remains 21 percent the long-term December average of 2.79 million.

Based on information within the past three weeks, there aren’t as many ducks as usual in Missouri, Arkansas and Mississipi. Early December surveys in Arkansas and Mississippi were far below average, Reynolds pointed out, and the most recent bi-weekly survey in Missouri continues to be below average.

Where are the ducks?

The latest aerial survey in Illinois reported duck counts from 43 percent to 50 percent above average, suggesting that still are many ducks holding farther north in the Mississippi Flyway. Snow and ice could move them down.

Duck numbers were higher in all three Louisiana regions surveyed this month compared to November. Species-specific counts also increased for all ducks except wigeon, Reynolds reported. The biggest increases were canvasback (154,000 to 653,000), mallards (7,000 to 50,000), ring-necked ducks (154,000 to 653,000), green-winged teal (49,000 to 302,000) and gadwalls (288,000 to 456,000).

The largest concentration of ducks was in southwest Louisiana, where an estimated 314,000 gadwalls were counted in mid-December. Also in southwest Louisiana, where the majority of Teche Area residents hunt ducks, there were an estimated 188,000 green-winged teal, 163,000 shovelers, 149,000 pintails, 128,000 green-winged teal and 48,000 mallards.

Reynolds reported the vast majority (75 percent) of dabbling ducks — an estimated 1 million — was in southwest Louisiana while the diving ducks numbers — an estimated 605,000 — were skewed toward southeast Louisiana.

The dabbling ducks were concentrated in the marsh between Little Pecan and Grand Lake, agricultural fields north of Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge and the marsh south of West Cove in Calcasieu Lake, according to the veteran waterfowl biologist. Smaller concentrations of diving ducks were seen in the region’s open water of White Lake and flooded agricultural fields north of Intracoastal City.

Southwest Louisiana’s agricultural habitat did improve with heavy rains just before the survey was conducted and that rainfall brought water levels up in many fields and pastures, he wrote. Howe ver, the extra water didn’t seem to be extensive enough to remain, which means flooding is limited to managed water and a lot of that is due to an increase in active crawfish farming activity.

Nearly 77 percent of diving ducks in the state were in southeast Louisiana. The biggest grouping of divers was in the upper Terrebonne marshes southeast of Amelia, Reynolds reported, noting ring-necked ducks accounted for 84 percent of the total diving ducks and 54 percent of the total ducks seen in southeast Louisiana.

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