The numbers of wintering ducks in California and other parts of the Pacific Flyway fell to an all-time low this year, according to a survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
About 3.4 million ducks were counted in Pacific Flyway states in early January, 32 percent below the winter count of 1988 and 46 percent below the winter average of the last 33 years.Mallard ducks were down 37 percent to a record flyway low of 1.1 million, and pintail ducks were down 70 percent from their long-term winter averages.
"This survey confirms the serious downward trend we saw last year," said Fish and Wildlife Regional Director Marvin Plenert, who is based in Portland, Ore.
"Long-term drought and habitat loss have hit duck populations hard, and we are going to have to continue with some strong medicine to bring them back."
Some federal biologists say the failure of the Department of Interior for more than 30 years to provide a dependable supply of clean water to Central California refuges has contributed to the steady decline, as has the use of some wetlands as dumping grounds for poisonous agricultural drainage water.
Because of the current drought, the federal scientists also say many birds are forced to use farm waste water evaporation ponds in the western San Joaquin Valley.
Mutations in birds caused by selenium in farm drainage water have been reported at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge in Central California as well as the privately-operated farm waste water evaporation ponds in the San Joaquin Valley.
California wetlands, now 5 percent of their original acreage, account for most of the wintering habitat for ducks and geese that summer in Alaska and Canada.
California marshes or waterways supported about two million ducks and 500,000 geese during the winter of 1988-89.
The Pacific Flyway survey encompassed the states of California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Idaho, and Arizona and parts of Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico.