The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has the 2021 duck breading survey. In the survey, the Dept. blames the extreme drought conditions on the decline of breeding ducks. The May water index is 80% below what it was in 2020. That swing is the largest water level swing in the state’s history. 2021’s water level is 68% below the 60-year average in the state. For reference, 2020 was the sixth wettest year in 74 years. 2021 is shaping up to be the fifth driest in the same time frame.
“Of course, we’ll do a duck brood survey in July to get another handle on habitat conditions and what we see for production. But based on social mannerisms of ducks right now, it seems like there is very little breeding activity happening.” – Mike Szymanski, Migratory Game Bird Manager with NDGFD
With a lot fewer available potholes, many ducks will most likely choose not to nest this year. While the department counted a large number of birds (2.9 million) they expect many of the hens to not nest. The count was similar to the averages of the last few years. However, there were two exceptions, Pintails dropped 68% below their long-term average. The other exception was Gadwalls, they were counted at 47% above their count in 2020.
“We have seen these oddities in the gadwall index when coming abruptly from wet conditions to rather dry conditions. Being a late-nesting species, gadwall that won’t breed this year are still in the process of aggregating for departure to more secure molting habitats.” – Mike Szymanski, Migratory Game Bird Manager with NDGFD
June is typically too early for the Dept. to make duck breeding estimates. However, with such dry conditions across all of the prairie pothole region, hunters should expect tough hunting with very few young birds in the air this year. If you would like to read more about the drought conditions in North Dakota, you can click here.