Duck hunters who only look at statistics from annual breeding-pair and habitat surveys are apt to think hunting will be lackluster this year.
But a Missouri waterfowl specialist says the picture is more complicated and brighter than last year.
Resource scientist Dave Graber said although numbers of breeding ducks counted early in the spring were similar to 2004 numbers, summer rains improved nesting conditions significantly.
That improvement may not, he added, be adequately reflected in fall-flight projections.
Last year, waterfowl managers estimated North America's mallard fall flight at 9.4 million birds. This year's estimate is 9.3 million.
"The number of young mallards flying south this year is likely to be better than we expected based on early pond counts," Graber said. "Early surveys showed that Canadian wetlands had increased compared to 2004. Those in the U.S. had not. However, conditions improved in the U.S. after the May survey, and they continued to improve in Canada."
As a result, ducks that lost their broods early in the year had improved opportunities to re-nest. Graber said experts also think expanding wetlands in the north will lead to better-than-expected survival of young birds.
Hunters tend to focus on mallard numbers, partly because the species is highly sought. Mallards also are the only species for which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues fall flight estimates.
Last year wasn't bad for duck hunting in Missouri. The average hunter bagged 1.74 ducks at state-run wetland areas.
That is down slightly from 1.94 per hunter in 2003, but it is close to the 10-year average of 1.76 ducks per hunter.
Graber also noted that an increase in the proportion of young birds in this year's fall flight is good news for hunters.
Young birds are less experienced and wary than older ones, so they are easier to hunt.