DNR waterfowl survey plane
DNR waterfowl survey plane
Photo by Stephen Badger, Maryland Department of Natural Resources

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – In early January, aerial survey teams of pilots and biologists from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) made visual estimates of the ducks, geese and swans along most of the state’s Chesapeake Bay, Potomac River. and Atlantic Ocean coastal shorelines. This year, the teams counted about 563,800 waterfowl, lower than the 627,000 birds observed in 2020, and below the most recent five-year average of 718,600 birds. The 2021 Mid-Winter Survey was not flown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Winter distribution of waterfowl is influenced by many factors,” Maryland DNR Wildlife and Heritage Director Paul Peditto said. “Global weather patterns, food availability, habitat quality, prevalence of ice, and the population status of each species all play a role in how many birds we count and where we count them.”

Overall, dabbling ducks increased in number this year compared to 2020, as did pintails and green-winged teal, which likely reflected the mild fall temperatures. Likewise, generally mild winter weather likely led to fewer diving ducks being observed than in the 2020 survey. 

Hunter reports suggest that late arriving winter weather moved more scaup, canvasbacks, and redheads into the Chesapeake Bay region after the survey was completed. Biologists counted more Canada geese – 361,100 – than the 2020 survey, which counted 327,200. DNR considers this a hopeful sign that flyway wide harvest restrictions for Atlantic Population (AP) geese are working.

The Midwinter Waterfowl Survey has been conducted annually since the early 1960s, and covers most of the tidal shorelines and near-shore waterfowl habitat in Maryland. These numbers are not population estimates, but offer an annual “snapshot” view of how waterfowl use of important nearshore habitats changes over time.

Midwinter Waterfowl Survey Results 2017-2022 (no survey conducted in 2021)

Rounded to the nearest hundred

Species20172018201920202022
Mallard45,30064,30039,00056,00053,500
Black Duck25,50038,30017,20021,00024,600
Gadwall11,2003,1004,80010,8006,800
Widgeon1,4007001,2001,100300
Green-winged Teal2,1005001,5002,0006,900
Shoveler1000100300900
Pintail2,3001,1006001,8004,600
Total Dabblers87,900108,00064,40093,00097,600
Redhead20,70027,50020,60010,6007,000
Canvasback75,10060,00046,00046,9007,700
Scaup138,80045,30072,10059,00029,500
Ring-necked Duck4003001,1003,0002,100
Goldeneye700100100300100
Bufflehead12,90029,50013,20011,40010,600
Ruddy Duck35,00024,50028,90018,50022,400
Total Divers283,600187,200182,000149,70079,400
Scoters4,9004,50027,8005,7001,300
Long-tailed Duck2,7000300200100
Mergansers2,1002,3002,0002,3001,400
Total Ducks381,200302,000276,500250,900179,800
Brant900400900900200
Snow Goose21,30063,50034,70040,90013,600
Canada Goose394,700641,000250,200327,200361,100
Tundra Swan14,50016,4004,0007,1007,400
Total Waterfowl812,6001,023,300566,300627,000563,800

Licenses, stamps, and permits may be purchased online by phone at 855-855-3906, at a Natural Resources Service Center or at any one of the more than 250 Sport License Agents statewide.

Hunters with questions may contact the Maryland DNR Wildlife and Heritage Service at 410-260-8540.

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