Where are the mallards?
If you hunt ducks you are acutely aware of the diminished number along the Front Range.
If you are an observer of ducks you have seen fewer greenheads flying your neighborhood or resting and feeding on small park lakes.
It is not a matter of a dwindling population of this popular duck species. US Fish & Wild Service as well as Ducks Unlimited, the highly respected private waterfowl support organization, agree the overall population of the mallard is strong.
Dry years and lack of water in Canada and northern nesting states, waterfowl diseases have periodically influenced the species, but overall, the mallard population is healthy.
Counts show approximately 8.4 million mallards migrate annually and current year numbers are 12 percent above long-term (50-year) average.
However, in Colorado’s Central Flyway, which encompasses all lands east of the Continental Divide, fewer and fewer mallards are seen since the banner 1960s and ’70s. As example, I duck hunt in the Orchard area near South Platte River, surrounded by three big reservoirs, Jackson, Empire and Riverside, all important as resting area for migrating ducks and other waterfowl.
I have yet to take a mallard since the season opened in early October. The predominant ducks occupying the waters in Orchard area into January are teal, widgeon, gadwall and even some smaller species like the bufflehead and goldeneye.
These species normally migrate early in the fall.
Yet still here in January, very few mallards are seen or harvested.
Hunters and wildlife biologist alike are questioning the absence of mallards. Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff is searching and conducting studies for answers.
Some theories suggest the growing Front Range population and conversion of cropland to urban development over the last 30 years has pushed the mallard migration easterly.
Another speculation is that less corn, the mallard’s primary regional diet, is being grown in eastern Colorado. Other grain prices have encouraged farmers to plant alternative grains producing the greatest economic gain.
A third theory suggests hunting pressure has intensified along the South Platte River, at the reservoirs and in surrounding grain fields is responsible for forcing the Colorado mallard migration further east. Some speculate the significant growth in the Canada goose population in Colorado over this same 30-plus years has had an impact on shared resting waters as well as food sources.
To contact Ron, email him at Ron-Hellbusch@comcast.net