Mid-winter waterfowl survey results in North Dakota

Published: Jan. 28, 2023 at 7:28 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - The annual midwinter waterfowl survey in North Dakota is conducted in early January. It is an index for waterfowl that winter in the Central Flyway states, providing insight to the overall abundance and general distribution on where birds are wintering.

“We’re counting anything from ducks, geese and swans, so anything that’s technically grouped as a waterfowl we’re going to count and inventory,” said Andy Dinges, migratory game bird biologist.

Weather can play a huge role on waterfowl numbers that stay in North Dakota during winter.  

“We kind of knew going into the survey we’d probably have a pretty low count. Probably the biggest impact is snow depth on those wintering birds here, they rely a lot on those waste grains. So, if they can’t access food, outside of their roosting areas, usually that’s going to be their kind of final straw,” said Dinges.

There are a couple of different methods biologists use to count waterfowl at this time of year.

“We’ll do some ground counts. And then for the bulk of the survey, though, where we’ve got those large portions of open water on the Missouri River, some years we’ll have to fly Lake Sakakawea, so we’ll do those by air,” said Dinges.

With these weather conditions, biologists counted a little under 30,000 Canada geese in the state.

“Most of them were just a few miles below Garrison Dam, kind of shoved into the Tailrace area. And the other portion of those birds were on Nelson Lake in Oliver County. And then, in general, we didn’t find that many mallards. We found about 6,000, most of those were on the river again and then Nelson Lake,” said Dinges.

For reference, the 10-year average for the midwinter survey in North Dakota is 112,200 Canada geese and 16,500 mallards per year.