Ducks Unlimited Year In Review: California Drought Affected Breeding Production

Ducks Unlimited released its analysis of the nation’s waterfowl year in review for 2021-22, and drought conditions took a toll on bird breeding production in California. Here’s more on how California waterfowl was affected and what the near future may look like:

Exceptional drought also gripped much of the western U.S., including regionally important waterfowl breeding areas in the California Central Valley and Intermountain West. However, average to excellent wetland conditions were reported across much of Alaska and the Canadian boreal forest. Waterfowl biologists believe many breeding ducks likely overflew the parched prairie and settled in typically less productive habitats farther north. …

Periodic rain in fall and early winter provided drought relief and much needed short-term habitat in the West, although in some locations flood conditions scattered birds widely and made for challenging hunts. Dry conditions returned to the West in January, with California and Utah documenting their 2nd and 3rd driest January on record, respectively. Hunter reports, survey results, and weather conditions suggest the 2021–22 season was highly variable, with hunting success ranging from the worst ever to above average or best in recent memory. Multiple factors combine to influence individual experiences and observations, especially at local scales, but overall assessments suggest a below average year, yet consistent with what many expected given the severe drought of 2021. …

Across the western U.S., drought conditions are intensifying, making for another year of grim prospects for breeding waterfowl in the California Central Valley and Intermountain West (Figure 7). Significantly more moisture, in the form of either snow or rain, will be required to recover these important breeding regions from drought. Fortunately, breeding regions in Alaska, the Western boreal forest, eastern Canada, and much of the Great Lakes have experienced average to above average winter precipitation and should provide another year of abundant wetlands and good waterfowl production. 



Here’s also the full press release on the challenges of surveying the nation during the Covid-19 pandemic:

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – April 5, 2022 – For the second year in a row, Ducks Unlimited (DU) has released their Season in Review, a report designed to show broad-scale habitat conditions, weather and regional duck abundance from the 2021-22 waterfowl season.

Notable additions to this year’s report are an expanded look at the 2021 drought and its likely impacts on the fall flight and a concluding section that looks ahead to 2022 breeding habitat conditions across North America.

“With the lack of traditional large-scale waterfowl surveys over the past two years due to the pandemic, we feel that this snapshot of habitat conditions and waterfowl populations is a great resource for wildlife managers, partners and hunters alike,” said Dr. Karen Waldrop, DU’s Chief Conservation Officer. “Ducks Unlimited’s work is grounded in science, and the success of this inaugural paper last year showed us that the information is definitely well-received from the waterfowl community.”

Descriptions in the report are based on a collection of empirical data for weather and weather-related events – such as streamflow and ice cover – as well as numerous discussions and field reports provided by our staff, partners, members and other contributors.

“We developed this report to provide waterfowl hunters and the management community with a reliable depiction of how some of these key factors, mostly weather and habitat related, changed throughout the previous hunting season and what that may have meant for ducks and hunters,” said DU Waterfowl Scientist, Dr. Michael Brasher. “By providing this information in a clear and objective manner we hope to help hunters gain some explanation for their hunting experiences, whether good or bad, and also reflect on how it may have compared to other parts of the country.”

For more information, or to download the report, please click here.

Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America’s continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 15 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit