Duck and goose populations booming in Michigan. Other birds? Not really.

This is largely thanks to Great Lakes water levels that have fallen since 2020, but remain above long-term averages.


“Increased populations are unlikely to have any visible impact except that wildlife watchers and waterfowl hunters may have more birds to see,” said waterfowl and area specialist Barbara Avers. wetlands at the State Department of Natural Resources.

Members of the Natural Resources Commission, the agency that considers wildlife regulations, are expected to discuss the survey when they meet Feb. 10 in Lansing.

Waterfowl are a rare achievement among birds these days.

Habitat loss caused by climate change and urbanization has helped reduce the population of North American birds by 2.9 billion breeding adults, down from some 10.1 billion almost a half ago. -century, according to a 2019 study, Nearly 3 Billion Birds Gone.

North America’s forests have lost 1 billion birds, and grassland bird populations — like Michigan’s endangered Henslow’s sparrow populations that have declined by 12% per year — have fallen by 53% , or 720 million additional birds. The declines are mainly due to habitat loss caused by climate change and urbanization.

But ducks, wild turkeys, bald eagles and other waterfowl benefit from conservation efforts, said Erin Rowan, MI Birds Program associate for Audubon Great Lakes.

“And one of the reasons for that, especially wild turkey and duck conservation, is that conservation has been hunter-led for decades with great success,” Rowan said.

Hunting licenses pay for 90% of state wildlife area conservation and management, Rowan said.

According to the DNR, which conducted an aerial bird survey during the breeding season, there were about 973,051 ducks, 309,993 mallards and 295,635 Canada geese in Michigan last year.

All three waterfowl tend to stay in the state throughout the summer and nest in all 83 counties.

According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report, there were 1 million active waterfowl hunters in the United States during the 2020-2021 season, up from 989,500 during the 2019-2020 season.

Hunters in Michigan shot 252,800 ducks last year, down from 235,300 in 2019, and killed the most Canada geese, 171,000, in the Mississippi Flyway, a route regularly traveled by large numbers of Migrator birds.

Steve Shifflett, who lives in Silverwood in Lapeer County, said the water in the pond behind his house had increased, as had the number of ducks he saw there. He primarily hunts waterfowl on his property.

“The number of ducks we saw this year was better than any other year,” Shifflett said. “The flood sent the water higher in the cattails and we only heard ducks all morning.”

Shifflett buys a license every year to hunt ducks and geese. He also hunts turkeys and noticed that there were more people hunting the bird at the start of the coronavirus pandemic than he had ever seen.

“There are a huge number of people buying licenses,” Shifflett said. “Even though I don’t plan on hunting much waterfowl, I’m definitely buying the duck stamps and getting my license because it also helps fund non-hunting wildlife refuges.”

According to Rowan, with the decline in hunting since the 1990s, the future of bird conservation could be in jeopardy.

“But we have seen an increase in licensed sales during the pandemic. We hope we can contain that, but it’s kind of a band-aid on a bigger issue, Rowan said.

Birds are threatened by loss of wetlands: A state report showed that Michigan had 10.7 million acres of wetlands before the arrival of European settlers. But since the early 1880s, the state has lost more than 50% of these areas.

Populations of ducks and geese fluctuate from year to year depending on water levels. According to Don Uzarski, director of the Great Lakes Research Institute at Central Michigan University, state water levels fluctuate every two or three years.

When water levels are too low, vegetation overgrows an area, and it is not the ideal breeding habitat for ducks or geese. When they are too high, bird’s nests can be washed away.

Michigan’s water levels have fluctuated every five to eight years, and Uzarski says that’s not normal.

“Waterfowl love Hemi-marsh, which is 50% open water and 50% vegetated,” Uzarski said. “You need the water level to fluctuate every few years because that combination, enough vegetation and water flowing through it, creates their perfect habitat.”

While national populations of ducks and geese are on the rise, populations in some states experiencing low water levels caused by climate change are struggling. According to a report, North Dakota prairie nesting grounds in 2021 were much drier than the flooded conditions of recent years, leading to some duck population declines of between 48% and 65%.

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