The majority of Pacific Flyway waterfowl are raised on the prairies of the United States and Canada, northwestern Canada, Alaska, and other western states. In southern Alberta, below-average winter snowfall and little runoff resulted in a 26 percent decrease in May ponds in this region. Total breeding ducks were down 11 percent in the region from the 2015 estimate, but remained 17 percent above the long-term average. In June and July, torrential rains fell across much of Alberta, raising water levels in existing wetlands and refilling some wetlands that had been dry in the spring.
“Locally heavy rainfall associated with thunderstorms put water in the fields in some areas,” reports DU Canada biologist Ian McFarlane. “Frequent rainfall and high humidity delayed the hay harvest and enhanced forage growth, which benefited nesting ducks. Our field staff reported numerous broods with good numbers of ducklings in many areas. As a result, waterfowl production should be better than originally anticipated, but still likely below 2015 levels.”
Farther north, in the Boreal Forest of northern Alberta, northeastern British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories, the abundance of breeding ducks increased 22 percent in 2016 and was 93 percent above the long-term average. In Alaska and the Yukon, breeding ducks were up 28 percent this year and were 17 percent above the long-term average. The increase in waterfowl numbers surveyed on these northern breeding areas likely reflected a partial redistribution of waterfowl from the prairies.
DU Canada biologist Jamie Kenyon reports that wetland conditions were generally favorable for breeding waterfowl across much of the Western Boreal Forest. “Following an early spring, temperatures were warmer than average this summer,” Kenyon says. “Heavy rains in June and July brought pond levels up across much of the region, although rainfall was below average in parts of northern Alberta and the southern Northwest Territories. Overall, habitat conditions were favorable for brood rearing, and larger wetlands should provide good habitat for staging waterfowl this fall.”
In the western United States, much-needed precipitation improved wetland conditions in parts of the region this spring, but waterfowl habitats continue to suffer the effects of drought in many areas. In California, total ducks were up 30 percent compared to the 2015 estimate, but remained 27 percent below the long-term average. In Oregon and Washington, duck populations were down 24 percent and 37 percent, respectively, despite some improvement in wetland conditions.
Weather and habitat conditions were excellent for most Pacific Flyway goose populations. An exceptionally early spring thaw in Alaska’s Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and other important northern breeding areas likely resulted in good production of cackling, Ross’s, and white-fronted geese as well as Pacific brant.