Cold weather in early December may have driven more waterfowl to migrate to Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay shoreline and Atlantic coast, according to the results of Maryland’s 2017 Midwinter Waterfowl Survey. Experts from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) counted more ducks, geese and swans in their aerial surveys than in 2016, resulting in a nearly 23 percent increase in the results of the annual survey.
An early-December cold snap throughout the eastern United States spurred the migration of waterfowl to the Chesapeake region, according to a DNR release, resulting in an overall count of 812,600 birds—higher than last year’s 663,000 and slightly above the five year average of 795,240.
This year’s total included 87,900 dabbling ducks (an increase from 69,800 in 2016) and 283,600 diving ducks (up from 246,000 in 2016). The increase in diving ducks can be attributed to teams observing more scaup and canvasbacks. Survey teams also observed more Canada geese than in 2016: 394,700 birds, a 34 percent increase from the previous year.
Marshes, mud flats and shorelines—which offer plenty of fish, underwater grasses and aquatic invertebrates to feast on—make the Bay region a perfect winter stopover for migrating waterfowl. Tracking the abundance of species like the American black duck helps scientists assess habitat health and food availability to support both migrating and resident waterfowl populations.
The USFWS Division of Migratory Bird Management combines these survey results with those from other states to get a sense of the distribution and population size of waterfowl wintering along the Atlantic Flyway, the migration route that follows the Atlantic coast of North America.
Learn more about the results of the Midwinter Waterfowl Survey.
Hutch Walbridge, Wildlife Biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, places an identification band on the leg of a female American black duck on a farm in Church Creek, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, on March 5, 2013.
Not truly black, the dark, dusky-brown plumage of the American black duck (Anas rubripes) appears black from a distance. This shy, native waterfowl can be found year-round along the quiet, isolated tidal wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers. When food sources in the north become scarce in colder months, additional ducks migrate to the Bay region to overwinter.
Black ducks were once the most abundant dabbling duck in eastern North America. But as the Bay’s wetlands disappeared, black duck populations dropped dramatically. In the 1950s, close to 200,000 black ducks spent their winters in the Chesapeake Bay region. But recent estimates show that, from 2013 and 2015, just over 51,000 black ducks overwintered on the Bay each year.
Marshes and wetlands in the Bay region are critical to the long-term survival of the black duck. Protection of the area’s remaining tidal marshes—along with large-scale habitat restoration projects like Poplar Island—helps provide the birds with the habitat and food sources they need. Under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, our partners are working toward having enough habitat to support 100,000 wintering black ducks by 2025.
Learn more about what experts are doing to conserve habitat for the American black duck.
Image by Will Parson