Tracking Northern Michigan wildlife in winter is often performed by looking at bird populations of open water areas. Not everyone goes south for the winter; for some, Northern Michigan’s Great Lakes are an outdoor winter destination!
Did you know the Great Lakes have thousands of feathered friends floating out there right now? Have you ever wondered how duck, geese and swan populations are tracked?
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with many other states in the nation, estimate duck, geese and swan populations (waterfowl) by looking at areas that traditionally hold birds in January – the open water.
“Anytime Mother Nature causes wildlife to naturally group together, surveying can be much more efficient,” said DNR wildlife biologist Mark Monroe. “Looking for birds by truck or plane at the same time across the nation gives agencies a great feel for populations and habitat trends.”
From Jan. 5-11, DNR staff visited (either by plane or truck) the same areas that have been surveyed in the past, not just to count waterfowl but also to identify the species. Mallards were the most common duck observed, although many “diving ducks” or sea ducks – such as canvasbacks and redheads – were counted.
“I’ve been flying this survey in Northern Michigan for quite a few years,” said Monroe, “and I have seen thousands of ducks every year out in the open water; it’s really neat to see.”
Northern Michigan was flown by plane. One DNR pilot and two DNR observers spent the day traveling over 750 miles, searching out large groups of waterfowl in water that still remains open. The Manistee River, Lake Michigan from Pentwater to the Sleeping Bear Dunes, the inlet at Elberta and the Grand Traverse Bay area are locations in Northern Michigan where large numbers of birds are traditionally found. The crew revisits other “hot spots” where they have found waterfowl populations in the past, conducting fly-overs at elevations of 200 to 500 feet.
The Great Lakes and large rivers hold thousands of ducks that will spend the winter here, either because they are resident birds and do not migrate or because they have migrated to the Great Lakes from farther north. That’s right – some waterfowl that breed near the Arctic will actually head south to the Great Lakes to winter!
“In the Northern Michigan we counted just over 12,000 ducks, just under 100 geese and more than 300 mute swans,” said Monroe. “It’s amazing how many birds are out on the water that’s still open.”
Winter waterfowl surveys can help detect any significant changes in the populations as well as help determine results of recent waterfowl hunting seasons – and help dictate further regulations for future seasons. The January waterfowl survey also provides the best information on the number of mute swans in Michigan so population trends can be established for yearly comparisons.
To learn more about the different wildlife surveys completed by the DNR, visit the Wildlife Surveys page on the DNR website or contact DNR wildlife outreach technician Katie Keen at 231-775-9727.