About this Collection
The Return of the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey
By Mark Koneff
For the first time since 2019, our aerial survey crews were able to enter Canada to conduct the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey (WBPHS). The WBPHS is the largest and longest running wildlife survey in the world and its results have, since the 1955, guided waterfowl harvest and habitat management, and has been used by researchers worldwide to shed light on large-scale dynamics of migratory species. The primary purpose of the WBPHS is to provide information on spring population size and trajectory for most North American duck species, several populations of Canada geese, tundra swans, and American coot, and to evaluate breeding habitat conditions.
The survey is conducted by airplane, helicopter, and ground over a 2 million square mile area that covers the principal breeding areas in North America, and includes parts of Alaska, Canada, and the northcentral and northeast U.S. This survey is also referred to as the Breeding Population Survey (BPOP) or the May Survey.
The loss of WBPHS data for two consecutive years challenged Service and state waterfowl managers, and required us to develop new projection models to span the short-term gaps in survey data and inform harvest management decisions. While the ability to make such short-term projections reflects the value of the long-term population and habitat data derived from the survey, the longer the time-period without actual population and habitat observations, the poorer we would expect model-based projections to be, and the greater the uncertainty faced by managers. For those reasons, it was a relief when COVID restrictions affecting border crossing and movement within and among Canadian provinces eased sufficiently to allow Service air crews to operate there again.
However, restarting survey operations in Canada has been a significant lift for those involved. The uncertainty surrounding the border and domestic travel restrictions remained in place until the beginning of the survey, which necessitated substantial contingency planning and special efforts to obtain diplomatic clearances. For the air crews, global supply chain issues, increased travel, and demand for lodging and transportation added additional challenges, making it difficult to move freely around weather systems within their crew areas due to lack of available lodging and ground transportation.
Despite the challenges, nine Service aircrews and two ground crews collaborated with three aircrews and three ground crews of the Canadian Wildlife Service to once again contribute to this long-term dataset that has been so critical to effective management of waterfowl in North America. The success of this year’s survey is truly a testament to the dedicated survey personnel of the Division of Migratory Bird Management and the skilled aerial and ground observers from other Service Regions and programs who participated.
Please click on the individual field reports to read the first-hand observations from our pilot biologists and ground crews on what they saw during the 2022 May Survey.