Where have all the mallards gone?

On Monhegan recently, Linda and I saw a mallard family that included seven very cute ducklings. They were about four feet in front of us in a bog. And we saw lots of mallards on the island that week, as we do at home in our nearby stream and pond.

So I was surprised to get home and read Brad Allen’s column in the June issue of Northwoods Sporting Journal, titled Mallard Numbers Declining.

You probably know that mallards are very important to Maine’s duck hunters. Last fall Brad wrote that “while mallard populations in the east showed signs of decline, continental populations remain high and hunting the current mallard stock in Maine remained very good.”

In his latest column however, Brad writes, “Based on waterfowl issues articulated this winter, I now see I was overly optimistic.”

Brad reports that all of the mallard data now suggests a “significant decline in mallard abundance.” Biologists are now certain that the decline is real. That is definitely bad news.
And in response to that decline, the mallard bag limit next year will be reduced from four to two per day. This fall the bag limit will still be four mallards a day.

Recent hunter surveys, according to Brad, show that duck hunters prefer maximizing hunting days rather than maximizing daily bag limits, so the Atlantic Flyway Council and the USFWS chose to lower bag limits rather than shorten the hunting season.

Brad offers the most important question: Why are mallard populations declining? He says biologists are struggling with this question but have a few theories: a general decline in winter feeding sites resulting in lower survival rates of so-called urban mallards, decreases in habitat quality, and hybridization with game-farm mallards causing a change in survivability. “But none of these hypotheses have been tested,” says Brad.

We can only hope they figure this out and decide how to restore mallard populations. In the meantime, we must continue to advocate for protection of habitat, including support for our conservation groups and initiatives.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.