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, the 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 suggesting 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

Black Duck25,50038,30017,20021,00024,600
Green-winged Teal2,1005001,5002,0006,900
Total Dabblers87,900108,00064,40093,00097,600
Ring-necked Duck4003001,1003,0002,100
Ruddy Duck35,00024,50028,90018,50022,400
Total Divers283,600187,200182,000149,70079,400
Long-tailed Duck2,7000300200100
Total Ducks381,200302,000276,500250,900179,800
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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