Teal hunters are rejoicing at news of a dramatic turn-around in their favorite ducks' fortunes. Other duck hunters will find ample cause for joy in this year's waterfowl status reports, too.
Poor nesting conditions during the 2002 breeding season prompted wildlife officials to shorten last year's early teal season by a week compared to 2001.
Early indicators this year left biologists and hunters alike wondering whether teal numbers would justify any early teal hunting at all. But unusually wet weather saved the day.
"The prairie pothole region of south-central Canada was dry as a bone this time last year," said Dave Graber of the Missouri Department of Conservation. "But starting in the late summer and especially during the past April, the region got an extraordinary amount of rain and snow."
The recovery in blue-winged teal was dramatic -- a 31 percent increase from last year's population of 4.2 million breeding birds to 5.5 million. The green-winged teal estimate of 2.7 million was the second-highest on record.
Other species increased even more dramatically. Breeding numbers of Northern shovelers jumped 56 percent to 3.6 million.
The Northern pintail, a species of special concern for several years, posted an encouraging 43 percent increase.
Numbers of mallards, the most numerous waterfowl species pursued by hunters, were similar to last year, at 7.9 million (7.1 million in 2002). Numbers of other common duck species also were similar to last year.
The increase in teal numbers is welcome news to hunters who plan to pursue the fast-flying little ducks during Missouri's early teal season Sept. 6-21.
However, their ultimate success will depend, as always, on weather conditions between now and late September.
Teal season in eastern Kansas will run from Sept. 13-28.
The good news for hunters is that teal are likely to congregate around available water, making them easier to find. Public wetland areas, lakes and rivers will be good spots to hunt.
The increase in breeding numbers of pintails, scaup, canvasbacks and redhead ducks is particularly encouraging to waterfowl managers and hunters.
These species have experienced long-term declines and didn't share equally in the overall waterfowl recovery that took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
This year, seven of the 10 most common ducks are listed at or above population goals set under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan.