Ducks Unlimited Season In Review: Alaska Had It Better Than Drought-Affected West

Ducks Unlimited

Ducks Unlimited released its analysis of the nation’s waterfowl year in review for 2021-22, and things went relatively well in the Last Frontier. Here’s what DU said about Alaska’s year regarding breeding habitat production in comparison to other areas such as drought-ravaged California and other parts of the West:

Exceptional drought also gripped much of the western U.S., including regionally important waterfowl breeding areas in the California Central Valley and Intermountain West. However, average to excellent wetland conditions were reported across much of Alaska and the Canadian boreal forest. Waterfowl biologists believe many breeding ducks likely overflew the parched prairie and settled in typically less productive habitats farther north.

Given these conditions, waterfowl managers expected low production in the mid-continent in 2021, especially among prairie-nesting dabblers and divers (mallard, northern pintail, blue-winged teal, northern shoveler, gadwall, canvasback, redhead), resulting in a fall flight that was likely well below recent averages. Given their heavy reliance on prairie production, hunters in the Central and Mississippi Flyways were expected to experience the most notable effects.

Anecdotal reports from the field seemed to corroborate this expectation, including an adult-dominated harvest, advanced development of male breeding plumage in the fall (suggesting an early end to breeding effort), and low numbers of juvenile birds captured during winter banding operations. In the western U.S., local production was expected to be extremely low, although average conditions in Alaska likely yielded a decent supply of young birds for Pacific Flyway hunters.

Wetland conditions and duck production in the more stable breeding habitats of eastern U.S. and Canada were expected to be about average, although the lack of production in the prairies likely contributed to a below-average fall flight in the Atlantic Flyway.

Here’s also the full press release on the challenges of surveying the nation during the Covid-19 pandemic:

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – April 5, 2022 – For the second year in a row, Ducks Unlimited (DU) has released their Season in Review, a report designed to show broad-scale habitat conditions, weather and regional duck abundance from the 2021-22 waterfowl season. 

Notable additions to this year’s report are an expanded look at the 2021 drought and its likely impacts on the fall flight and a concluding section that looks ahead to 2022 breeding habitat conditions across North America. 

“With the lack of traditional large-scale waterfowl surveys over the past two years due to the pandemic, we feel that this snapshot of habitat conditions and waterfowl populations is a great resource for wildlife managers, partners and hunters alike,” said Dr. Karen Waldrop, DU’s Chief Conservation Officer. “Ducks Unlimited’s work is grounded in science, and the success of this inaugural paper last year showed us that the information is definitely well-received from the waterfowl community.” 

Descriptions in the report are based on a collection of empirical data for weather and weather-related events – such as streamflow and ice cover – as well as numerous discussions and field reports provided by our staff, partners, members and other contributors. 

“We developed this report to provide waterfowl hunters and the management community with a reliable depiction of how some of these key factors, mostly weather and habitat related, changed throughout the previous hunting season and what that may have meant for ducks and hunters,” said DU Waterfowl Scientist, Dr. Michael Brasher. “By providing this information in a clear and objective manner we hope to help hunters gain some explanation for their hunting experiences, whether good or bad, and also reflect on how it may have compared to other parts of the country.”

For more information, or to download the report, please click here.  

Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America’s continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 15 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit