"The estimated 2.42 million ducks on this survey is a 31-percent increase over the 1.84 (million birds) estimated in November, is 11 percent higher than last December's estimate of 2.17 million (ducks) and is slightly higher than the most-recent five-year average of 2.25 million (birds)," the LDWF report reveals.
However, the count is still 13 percent blow the long-term average of 2.78 million ducks, the report reveals.
The count is part of the monthly waterfowl aerial surveys LDWF biologists conduct annually during duck hunting seasons to keep track of how many birds are utilizing the wetlands at the bottom end of the Mississippi Flyway.
Biologists credit the increase in ducks over the past month to a series of cold fronts that have dropped temperatures in northern states, freezing wetland habitats in the northern portions of the Central and Mississippi flyways.
"Estimates for all species increased from the November survey except blue-winged teal, which declined from 451,000 to 100,000, and our resident mottled ducks, which stayed about the same," the report shows.
Interestingly, about the same total number of ducks was estimated to be wintering in the southwestern and southeastern portions of the state, although Southeast Louisiana nudged slightly ahead of the southwestern rice fields.
"That shift was primarily due to big increases in gadwalls, which declined markedly in southwest Louisiana, and an influx of large numbers of scaup and ring-necked ducks into Southeast Louisiana marshes," the biologists wrote.
These waterfowl experts said they saw large concentrations of Southeast Louisiana birds in the upper Terrebonne marshes and near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
A total of 1.121 million birds were estimated to be using the marshes of Southeast Louisiana, while 1.093 ducks were counted in Southwest Louisiana.
Another 209,000 birds were estimated in the Catahoula Lake region.
By far the most-prevalent species were dabbling ducks, which made up nearly 80 percent of all ducks that have moved into the state thus far.
Gadwalls were the most-numerous, with 803,000 grays falling into the state.
Green-winged teal held the second position with 407,000 birds, and pintails were third with 233,000.
The number of other dabbling-duck species counted were:
• Shovelers – 183,000
• Blue-winged teal – 100,000
• Mallards – 97,000
• Mottled ducks – 64,000
• Wigeon – 34,000
Of the 503,000 divers counted during the survey, ringnecks were the most numerous at 240,000.
Scaup came in second with 200,000, and canvasbacks brought up the rear with 63,000 individual birds estimated.
The report also indicated that habitat conditions were improved from November, although there are still problems for birds heading to the southwestern portions of the state.
"Far more managed water has been pumped up in the agricultural regions throughout the state, but overall acreage is still les than in the past," according to the report. "In Southwest Louisiana, drought conditions are still extreme and many marshes have the same or less water than in November, providing below-average foraging habitat."
However, the biologists noted that habitat improved in the southeastern areas of the state, but the agricultural properties moving into the northern parts of Louisiana apparently are still struggling from drought.
Catahoula Lake and river backwaters were the only real exceptions.
"Water levels at Cathaoula Lake have remained within management targets, and habitat conditions are good," the report said. "Surrounding agricultural land has less-than-normal shallow flooding, and habitat conditions are below average.
"The same is true across much of northeast and northwest Louisiana where, despite recent rains, there is little backwater flooding along most major river systems and less-than-normal shallow flooding in agricultural fields."
However, there could be some bright spots along the Mississippi River in the coming weeks.
"The Mississippi River is rising, so some backwater flooding was noted in extreme northeastern Louisiana, and that may help improve habitat conditions in that region," the report concluded.
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