Monday, March 19, 2007

Low Canvasback Numbers on the Chesapeake

The Baltimore Sun reports on this winter's exceptionally small flocks of canvasbacks around Chesapeake Bay:

Department of Natural Resources officials counted 13,700 canvasbacks during their annual midwinter waterfowl survey, which tracks about 20 species of ducks and geese that fly south each winter. That marked a precipitous drop from the four previous years, when canvasback numbers hovered between 30,000 and 40,000 during the annual count.

The survey found declines in other species of ducks as well, and recorded the lowest numbers of waterfowl in Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake Bay in five years.


Waterfowl specialist Larry Hindman, who conducts the department's surveys, said an unseasonably warm winter is to blame for the lack of canvasbacks, which decided to spend much of the season in the Great Lakes area. Federal data show that the russet-necked, white-feathered birds are breeding at a stable rate nationwide and that the continental population is relatively high.

In the 1950s, nearly 250,000 canvasbacks - about half the North American winter population - wintered in the Chesapeake Bay, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Thousands of those birds flocked to the Susquehanna Flats near Havre de Grace, where they dined on the plentiful wild celery grasses and helped drive a hunting industry. The number of ducks in Maryland has fallen in part because much of the grasses that were their food source have been destroyed.
The DNR survey confirms our impressions from the Eastern Neck Christmas Count. In terms of recent numbers, it may be a one-year blip, but the fifty-year decline is more serious.