The Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife recently completed New Jersey’s portion of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Atlantic Flyway Mid-Winter Waterfowl Survey. The survey, designed to track long-term trends of waterfowl species wintering along the Atlantic coast, has been conducted aerially each January since 1955.
“The information gathered during these annual surveys helps identify long-term trends and population numbers of waterfowl species that frequent the Atlantic coast,” said division Director Bob McDowell. “New Jersey is pleased to contribute to this valuable national database.”
This year, a total of 493,479 waterfowl of 26 different species were counted during New Jersey’s portion of the survey, which generally comprises 15 percent of the entire waterfowl total for the Atlantic Flyway each year. The total represents a six percent increase over last year and remains consistent with New Jersey’s 10-year average count of half a million waterfowl annually.
The survey covered important waterfowl wintering areas throughout the entire state. Division biologists, responsible for identifying and counting the waterfowl sighted, conducted a number of flights with the assistance of professional pilots. Information collected in the interstate survey allows division and USFWS biologists to better manage migratory waterfowl species along the Atlantic coast.
Important species where a significant proportion of the Atlantic Flyway total have been counted in New Jersey during the last 10 years include: Atlantic brant (70%), black ducks (35%), snow geese (30%), Canada geese (15%), mallards (17%), scaup (15%), bufflehead (25%) and mute swans (20%).
The 1997 New Jersey Mid-Winter Waterfowl Survey totals for these major waterfowl species with comparisons to their 10-year average are as follows: Atlantic brant 87,240 (-9%), black ducks 77,678 (-4%), snow geese 23,925 (-63%), Canada geese 181,704 (+45%), mallards 30,296 (+2%), scaup 43,355 (-26%), bufflehead 18,670 (+42%) and mute swans 1,507 (+6%).
“It is important to note that winter temperatures, amount of rainfall and available habitat can play an important part in the distribution of different waterfowl species among states within a given year,” said division Waterfowl Ecology and Management Project Leader Paul Castelli. “Abundant rainfall throughout the east in 1996 resulted in increased waterfowl habitat during the critical fall and winter months. Coupled with a relatively mild winter, starvation and exposure losses should be minimal for most species this winter.”
Final Atlantic Flyway figures for this survey will be available from the USFWS in late March.