This year's waterfowl survey showed the highest numbers of breeding for canvasbacks at865,000, redheads at one million and northern shovelers at 4.6 million, according to the Missouri Conservation Department. Duck numbers are up 14 percent overall.
David Graber, a resource scientist for the Conservation Department, said the increase was caused by "favorable water conditions on breeding grounds".
"Duck number almost always respond to good rain conditions."
Dr. Bill Eddleman, biology professor in Southeast Missouri State University and chairman of the Missouri Bird Records Committee, said that the majority of the birds come from south central Canada. To make it to their far away destinations, they use landmarks and star patterns to guide them.
Eddleman said that they eat foods that are high in fat to store energy for their journey. They also go through intense eating periods.
He said, "The best time to catch a diversity of birds is the later part of October." Dr. Eddleman is involved with the Missouri Audubon Society that has about 400 members. He also said, there are a variety of wetlands to view ducks.
Candace Chambers, Wildlife Refuge Specialist for Great River National Wildlife Refuge, said that their peak duck population averages at 100, 000. Chambers said the refuge's facilities include an observation deck, and a nature trail. She suggested visitors should bring their own binoculars, although scopes and binoculars are provided from their headquarters.
Chambers conducts a weekly waterfowl survey, and so far she said "It's a really good year."
"I get to the pleasure of seeing the birds."
The increase does not reflect all species populations. Graber said, norther pintails are 19 percent below its long term average. He said pintails have not adapted to modern agriculture. Scaup is 33 percent below average. He said, "We don't totally understand why they declined the way they have." He does not think that hunting will have a negative effect on their population. Graber said "Bird numbers are driven more by habitat than hunting."
Ken Drenon of the Conservation Department said that Mallards tend to be the most popular for hunters.
This fall there will be 60 days of duck hunting, beginning October 27th for the north zone of Missouri. The Conservation Department provides fifteen managed waterfowl hunting conservations. There is a six-bird a day limit, with some species restrictions.
Many areas of Missouri conservation grounds faced some flooding this summer. There were concerns that the floods would have a negative impact on the food supply migrating ducks. Lack of food would cause ducks to pass through. For Eagle Bluffs, flooding had almost no effect. Loveless said that although floods hit the Eagle Bluff Conservation, they were able to replant crops before the waterfowl hunting season.
Mike Flaspohler, a wildlife management biologist with the department, said that he did not think food shortage should be a problem for the state of Missouri. He oversees the Ted Shanks conservation grounds, and he thinks they will also have a good supply of food and water. Flaspohler said he expects about 4500 to 5000 hunters to arrive at the Ted Shanks Conservation alone. He said that good forecasts of populations and an increase of young birds can bring more hunters out.
Flaspohler is concentrating on good weather conditions during the season. "We would like to have a good cold front once a week."Last year the weather got cold early and froze up wetlands.
Despite the predicted record number of birds overhead, Graber said he is not expecting nuisance problems. Geese populations are the only concern because they damage crops, cause disturbance in urban areas. In an attempt to control Canada geese populations, geese hunting is open from Sept. 29 to Oct. 8 since the mid 1990's.This also provides another hunting opportunity.
Graber expressed concern about future bird flights because of an expected decline in land under the Conservation Reserve Program. The program provides payments to farmers to keep land for available for wildlife. But with the increase of grain prices, some land currently used to house wildlife are expected to be returned to farmland. Graber said that the loss of land from the Conservation Reserve program may have a negative impact on bird populations in the future.
But Drenon express less concern, saying that the CRP lands are "more attractive to native wildlife, not migratory birds."
As for the hunters, Graber said that hunting conditions "won't stay that way forever." He said that hunters should enjoy it while they can.
Both Graber and Flaspohler said that they will be joining in the this falls duck hunting season.