2004-05 Migratory Bird Season
by Ted Nichols
Information and Population Status
Waterfowl Ecology and Management Program Biologist
Mid-continent breeding populations and habitat conditions in some survey areas were not as good as recent years, but the status of waterfowl and their habitats are sufficient overall to justify a liberal duck hunting season framework. While mid-continent populations of waterfowl wax and wane contingent on the amount of precipitation and resultant wetland habitat in these areas, habitat conditions in eastern North America are comparatively stable. Sportsmen who are willing to travel will be able to hunt ducks in at least one of New Jersey’s three waterfowl zones from October 9, 2004 until January 29, 2005. If hunters also consider Canada geese, rails and snow geese, there will be potential migratory bird hunting opportunities available from September 1 through March 10. (Click to see the 2004-05 Migratory Bird Regulations Summary (pdf, 7kb) and 2004-05 Migratory Bird Regulations Booklet (pdf, 110kb)
For the past several years, hunting regulations in the Atlantic Flyway have been based on an Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) approach driven by the status of eastern mallards. In 2004, 1.1 million mallards were estimated in the eastern survey area. This estimate is similar to the long-term average.
Every year, hunting regulations for migratory birds are developed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) after input and consultation with the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific Flyway councils. The Flyway Councils provide state and provincial wildlife agencies a formal mechanism to work with the Service in the cooperative management of North America’s migratory bird populations. Duck hunting regulations are based on biological assessments, primarily regarding mallards, conducted within the AHM process. AHM was developed by the Service and Flyway Councils, and is based on scientific rigor and objectivity in the regulations-setting process. During 2004, the AHM process suggested that a liberal duck-hunting season in all flyways was consistent with the long-term welfare of North American waterfowl populations.
Although most species of ducks in the mid-continent region were near their long-term averages, there is a need for concern for some species. For example, the pintail population has remained depressed for more than 20 years, and in 2004 pintails were 48% below the long-term average.
In response to the plight suffered by pintails on a continental scale, the Division of Fish and Wildlife participated as a partner in a multi-state Atlantic Flyway study to document the breeding ground affiliation and migration ecology of pintails that winter in eastern North America.
To meet these objectives, 39 adult female pintails from New Jersey to Florida, including six birds in New Jersey, were marked with satellite telemetry transmitters this past winter. During spring, most of these pintails migrated to breeding grounds in the eastern Canadian arctic. Readers who wish to learn more about this fascinating project, including maps of movements of satellite telemetered pintails, can check www.njfishandwildlife.com/pintail/pintail_sat2.htm.
Scaup populations also remain a concern to waterfowl managers. Scaup have declined for more than 20 years and remain 27% below the long-term average. As a result, smaller bag limits of three scaup per day will remain in effect.
The canvasback population is similar to the long-term average, but population modeling suggests that a full 60-day season would likely result in a reduced canvasback population next year. As such, the canvasback season will be 30 days throughout the United States.
The daily bag limit in New Jersey will be six ducks and may not include more than four mallards (including no more than two hens), four scoters, three scaup, two wood ducks, two redheads, and one black duck. The pintail and canvasback seasons in New Jersey will be 30 days in each zone at which time the bag limit will be one bird. The pintail and canvasback seasons will be closed at all other times. The canvasback season will occur during the last 30 days in each zone. The pintail season will occur during the time of peak abundance of pintails and hunting activity in each zone. As such, the pintail and canvasback seasons will run concurrently during only part of the duck season in each zone. Pintails and canvasbacks count towards the total bag limit of six ducks.
Given the partial season closures for pintails and canvasbacks, waterfowl hunters are advised to polish up on their identification skills and to check the regulations carefully before hunting.
Three Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days will be held in New Jersey this year. One Youth Day will be held in each of New Jersey's Waterfowl Zones (North, South and Coastal). Youth hunters with a valid youth license and accompanied by a non-shooting adult (age 21 or older) may participate in as many youth hunting days as they wish. Daily bag limits for ducks, Canada geese (South Zone and Coastal Zone), brant, snow geese, coots, moorhens and gallinules will be the same as those allowed during the regular season. In the North Zone, the daily bag limit for Canada geese is eight birds because the season occurs during September.
This special hunting opportunity is provided with the intent to increase youth appreciation and future participation in waterfowl hunting. Ecologically, New Jersey's three waterfowl zones are quite different, with unique patterns of waterfowl migration in each. The new approach used this year allows youth days to be held during periods of higher waterfowl abundance within each zone, thus enhancing the waterfowl hunting experience for both young hunters and their mentors.
A total of 175,000 breeding pairs of Atlantic Population (AP) or “migrant” Canada geese were estimated from surveys during June 2004 on the Ungava peninsula of northern Quebec. Although this is an 11% increase from the 2003 estimate, nesting conditions for AP Canada geese were the poorest experienced in over 10 years due to a late spring arrival. During surveys, a record low proportion (34%) of geese was observed as single birds, which indicates a poor nesting effort. Ground studies confirmed the poor nesting effort with low nest densities, clutch sizes and nest success when compared to past years.
Due to the increase in nesting pairs, hunting seasons in AP areas of the Atlantic Flyway were modestly liberalized. In New Jersey, the regular season for Canada geese, based primarily on the status of AP Canada geese, was maintained at a 45-day season, but with an increase to a three-goose bag limit. In 2002, when a similar scenario for AP Canada geese was observed in that nesting pair numbers increased, but gosling production was also poor, a similarly modest increase in regulations still allowed for population growth in subsequent years.
Additionally, the 2004 September Canada Goose Season will be held on a statewide basis from September 1-30 with a bag limit of eight birds per day. The Special Winter Canada Goose Season will be held January 24 to February 15, 2005, in two zones, with the same hunt area boundaries as last year and a bag limit of five Canada geese per day. Both the September and Special Winter seasons are targeted at Resident Population Canada geese that number about one million birds in the Atlantic Flyway.
Atlantic brant breed in remote wilderness areas of the Canadian arctic and their status is measured during January surveys on the wintering grounds. In the 2004 Mid-Winter Survey, 130,000 brant were observed: 21% below the previous year's survey. Additionally, gosling production for brant is expected to be low due to the late spring conditions that occurred across the entire eastern Canadian Arctic in 2004. As a result, brant regulations in Atlantic Flyway states will be reduced from last year to a 50-day season with a two-bird bag limit. Often, the brant season runs concurrently through the duration of the duck season. However during this season, Coastal Zone hunters should note that although the duck season will remain open until January 29, the brant season will close after January 18.
Snow goose populations remain high and biologists are concerned about the impacts snow geese have on fragile arctic nesting habitats. Serious damage to arctic wetlands has already been documented in several key snow goose breeding colonies. This damage impacts the snow geese themselves, as well as other wildlife dependent on the arctic ecosystem. Serious damage to agriculture also occurs in migration and wintering areas. The season length for snow geese is already 107 days, the longest allowed under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Bag limits will remain liberal this year with 15 snow geese per day and no possession limit.
All migratory bird hunters are reminded that they must obtain a Harvest Information Program (HIP) number before hunting ducks, geese, brant, woodcock, rails, snipe, coots or gallinules in New Jersey. Hunters can get their HIP number simply by calling 1-800-WETLAND or by registering on the Division’s web site at the previously listed address. The information provided by sportsmen and women is confidential and will only be used by the Service for conducting migratory bird harvest surveys.
Additional information on the status of waterfowl and habitat conditions can be viewed at: http://migratorybirds.fws.gov/reports/reports.html.