Late Spring Habitat Conditions For Waterfowl In Canada
With milder weather, many areas saw waterfowl nests initiated earlier than usual
Production will likely vary in the BC/Boreal Region, where most waterfowl species have arrived or passed through. Recent rains have improved conditions in much of the Prairie Region, particularly in Alberta.
Birds are well into nesting in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and early broods are already being reported. The nesting season also started early in Eastern Canada, where habitat conditions remain good overall.
British Columbia/Western Boreal Forest Region
Late spring was relatively cool, and snow is still present at higher elevations along the coast. Wetlands are mostly full and overflowing, particularly those with a river source, and many agricultural fields and pastures have been flooded.
The breeding season is progressing as usual, with the exception of a couple of species (e.g., the normal pulse of northern shovelers was delayed by a couple of weeks). Later-nesting species have started to arrive. Pair numbers are good, and production should be average.
Check out waterfowl images from Ducks Unlimited Canada:
In the southern Interior, conditions are still dry relative to the historic average. Many high-value wetlands have low water levels due to below-average runoff. Breeding effort appears to be close to normal compared to recent years, although pair distribution is more concentrated on permanent wetlands. Some Canada geese and mallards have broods. In general, the production forecast is average and slightly better than last year.
In the southeast Interior, snow conditions and runoff were above normal this winter. Wetland conditions and production should be better than average.
Spring has been cool and wet in the Peace region, where runoff was below normal due to a lack of winter snow. Wetlands are still dry relative to the historic average. Uplands are in good condition, although some agricultural crops will be delayed by spring rains. Breeding effort appears to be typical compared to recent years, but is likely depressed compared to the long-term average. This may translate into lower production overall.
Western Boreal Forest
Many Canada geese, scaups, scoters, green-winged teal, mallards and some swans have been observed in the Yukon, which has received above-normal precipitation.
Things are warming up in the Northwest Territories, although ice is still present on larger bodies of water. Most waterfowl species have arrived or are passing through.
All birds have returned in good numbers to northern portions of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Peace River received over 36 mm of rain over two days. May rainfall has improved habitat conditions in parts of northern Saskatchewan. In Manitoba, The Pas area has had above-normal precipitation for the month. Water conditions are good, and some lakes are above normal. Early-nesting species are well into the season, and groups of male mallards are a common sight.
Recent rainfall has improved habitat conditions in most areas of the province. Conditions are now generally rated as fair to good. Upland nesting conditions are also good.
A strong breeding effort is under way, and all species are displaying breeding behavior. Lone drakes and bachelor groups of mallards are common, as are male pintails in the Prairie region. Canada geese are hatching, and broods are being reported throughout the province. The first duck broods are also starting to appear.
The outlook for production is average to above average as long as there is sufficient moisture to maintain wetland habitats. Semi-permanent wetlands are currently in good condition, and breeding duck populations appear to be higher than they were in 2011.
With virtually all agricultural areas receiving above-average precipitation in April and May, habitat conditions have continued to improve. In several areas, spring rains have even increased the number of ephemeral and temporary ponds. Many semi-permanent and permanent wetlands are flooded beyond emergent vegetation and even beyond willow/aspen rings. These high water levels are ideal for divers looking for overwater nesting sites in flooded cattail and bulrush.
Most species of ducks are now well into nesting, and some early broods are already being reported. Canada goose broods have been observed regularly since mid May. The majority of staging arctic geese have now moved north to their breeding grounds, with some flocks of white-fronted geese and snow geese still migrating in late May.
Seeding operations are being completed at the usual pace, although wet field conditions have farmers behind schedule in east-central areas. Above-average spring moisture has created excellent hayland and pasture conditions.
It will likely be a good waterfowl production year. Eastern portions of the Killarney landscape have received the least amount of rainfall, while accumulations have been greatest in the northwest range of the Minnedosa/Shoal Lake pothole region.
Despite recent rainfall, individual wetland conditions still vary depending on how they were affected by last year’s major spring flood event. Semi-permanent wetlands, as well as those lower in the watershed, are in much better shape than temporary and seasonal basins or wetlands that experienced less overland flood effects in 2011.
Temperatures have remained favorable since the spring thaw, which will bode well for early-nesting birds. The presence of grouped drake mallards, as well as lone males of later-nesting species (e.g., shoveler and gadwall) indicates good initial nesting for most dabbling species. Lone drake blue-winged teal have been particularly abundant recently, which indicates an excellent initial nesting attempt by this species.
Prospects are not as clear for diving species (e.g., canvasback and redhead) in eastern areas where wetland conditions are not as favorable for overwater nesters. Canada goose nesting was successful and broods are currently abundant.
Winter wheat and natural grasslands are growing well, which is providing good nesting cover. Spring seeding is largely complete in the eastern Killarney region.
Earlier this year, there were concerns about breeding habitat throughout the province (especially in the south) due to a lack of snowpack and warm temperatures. However, significant April and May rains have resulted in good conditions for breeding waterfowl and early-hatching broods. The exception to this is southwestern Ontario, much of which received 50 percent of normal precipitation amounts. This has resulted in low water-level alerts, as well as poor to fair wetland habitat conditions.
With the early advancement of spring, broods of Canada geese appeared about two weeks earlier than usual. Mallards were into a strong nesting effort by mid April, and young broods are now being reported across the province.
As long as timely rainfall events occur throughout June and July, waterfowl production will likely be good this year.
Spring arrived early this year. April temperatures were generally warmer than normal, as were May temperatures.
Total precipitation was slightly below normal, except in eastern regions. However, there is enough water to maintain good habitat conditions throughout the province.
The breeding effort appears to be typical, although it started slightly earlier than normal. One might have expected the greater snow goose migration to happen earlier this year, due to early spring conditions, but April weather normalized migratory activity for many species. Most greater snow geese left for the North between May 20 and May 22, which is slightly earlier than usual.
The spring season started with extremely warm, sunny periods. Although more rain has fallen recently, warm temperatures continue. For nearly a week, many daily-high temperatures broke all-time records across the Maritimes.
With the milder weather, nests were initiated earlier than usual. Most geese are now with young or at the latter stages of incubation. Several broods of black ducks have been reported — some several weeks old already. Few hens have been observed on wetlands lately, suggesting that they will soon be with young.
Given current conditions, production will likely be average for early-nesting species. Wetland vegetation is well advanced, which should provide good brood-rearing habitat.
Although water levels are a bit low for this time of year, they are not low enough to cause concern. Overall, habitat conditions are good in Atlantic Canada.