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Waterfowl Breeding Ranges: 2010 - Present
Mallard Breeding Range
Being one of the most populous duck species in North America, it should be no surprise that during the spring and early summer you might see breeding pairs in every pothole across the country, but certain areas of the United States and Canada are responsible for producing a disproportionately large number of mallards each year.
The most obvious, and often-talked-about mallard-generating region is the Prairie Pothole Breeding Region (PPBR). This is the case for good reason—the vast majority of breeding mallards migrate to the Dakotas and the southern portion of Saskatchewan and Alberta each spring to breed, nest, and rear their young before making their way down the Central and Mississippi Flyways..
That said, British Columbia, the Klamath Basin Breeding Region, and surrounding areas of the Oregon-California border (KBBR+), and the western portion of Great Lakes Breeding Region (GLBR) also host moderately dense populations of breeding mallards, and is where the Pacific and Atlantic Flyways get most of their migration mallards.
Pintail Breeding Range
The Northern Pintail, arguably one of the waterfowling world’s most prized takes, is one of the more unique breeders. Mating Pintail drakes boast a chestnut-brown head with a white stripe stretching from their breast to the read of their head, a striking silhouette, graceful flights, and a unique, trill-like whistle.
For the Central and Mississippi flyways, the pintail’s preferred breeding range is similar to other species—dense populations of Pintail breeding in the Prairie Pothole Breeding Region (PPBR). Additionally, studies have shown Pintail are resilient nesters, and are one of a handful of species that will re-nest if necessary in this area.
However, should the PPBR be dry, or should nesting competition be high, Pintail are known to fly all the way to the tundra of Canada to ensure a nesting attempt is made. While this speaks to their resiliency, it is no secret that re-nesting in the tundra is more challenging, and oftentimes yields less juvenile Pintail. This is why success of the species’ population growth is largely dependent upon their nesting and rearing success in the PPBR.
In the Pacific Flyway, Pintail breed all the way from the Klamath Basin Breeding Region and surrounding areas (KBBR+) all the way north to Alaska, and while not an overly-abundant species, they are a common take for many hunters in the flyway—especially in the Sacramento Valley of California.
An interesting note, in an otherwise desolate and dry region of Nevada, the data consistently shows a small, but dense, population of breeding Pintail in and around Mosquito Creek and Dobbins Creek.
Shoveler Breeding Range
The Northern Shoveler—the waterfowling world’s “other” greenhead. While not considered a trophy bird, striking breeding plumage and in-flight acrobatics make this a fan-favorite amongst waterfowl enthusiasts and hunters alike.
Since 2010, Northern Shovelers have bred all across the United States, but the areas of highest breeding concentration for the species have been the principal regions of the Prairie Pothole Breeding Region (PPBR)—the Dakotas and the southern portions of Saskatchewan and Alberta. This are of production is where the fall flights of Northern Shovelers into the Central and Mississippi Flyways originate.
In the Pacific Flyway, historically there has been a moderate breeding population of Shovelers in the Klamath Basin Breeding Region and surrounding areas (KBBR+).
Interestingly, data shows that consistently there are small, but dense populations of breeding Shovelers in the northern extent of the Columbia River in Idaho, the Platte River of Nebraska, and in the Great Salt Lake region of Utah.
Gadwall Breeding Range
One of our personal favorites here at Migration Station, the drake Gadwall, or “Grey Duck”, can be identified by their darker color and blonde feather edges, while both drakes and hens sport white wing patches with black and brown markings.
Like many other puddle duck species, Gadwall primarily breed in the Prairie Pothole Breeding Region (PPBR) and the Klamath Basin Breeding Region and surrounding areas (KBBR+). In fact, the vast majority of Gadwall in North America can be attributed to production in North Dakota, Alberta, Manitoba and the Klamath Basin region.
However, in a unique shift occurring within the past few decades, small but dense breeding concentrations of Gadwall have hung around the lakes and reservoirs of Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.
Gadwall are not uncommon in the Atlantic Flyway, but they are not nearly as common as I the Pacific, Central and Mississippi Flyways. Out east, Gadwall breeding concentrations are sparse, and shift depending on conditions, but within the past decade there has been a small breeding population towards the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in the St. Lawrence Breeding Region (SLBR).
Wood Duck Breeding Range
Wood Ducks—aptly named for their suitability to perching in and nesting within trees—have one of the most striking appearances in the world of waterfowl; drakes boats a green hood, white throat, red eyes and a chestnut-colored breast patch while hens have a more subdued look, being grayish-brown with white spots on their chest and a white patch around each eye.
An interesting trait of Wood Ducks is that apart from most other waterfowl species (except for maybe Canada geese) they are considered “partially migratory”. What this means is that, generally speaking, the populations of wood ducks that originate from the northern climates (Canada, the Dakotas, etc.) are known to migrate south during the winter, while wood ducks from more mild climates are thought to be more local, and only travel shorter distances in search of viable habitat, food, and potential mates.
Wood Ducks are known to nest in just about every state and province to some extent, so remember the accompanying graphic depicts areas of relative dense breeding populations. That said, pretty much the entire stretch of the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways play host to breeding Wood Ducks.
Wigeon Breeding Range
The American Wigeon—known for it’s in-flight acrobatics and unique whistle—can be found cross-country during the fall and winter months, but is most prevalent in the Pacific Flyway.
Like many other species, there is at least a low-to-moderate breeding concentration of Wigeon in the Prairie Pothole Breeding Region (PPBR)—this is mainly where the Central and Mississippi Flyway Wigeon originate from. There is also a small concentration in the Hudson Bay Breeding Region (HBBR) that contributes to the Mississippi Flyway and the St. Lawrence Breeding Region (SLBR) that produces these fowl for the Atlantic Flyway.
That said, the vast majority of Wigeon in North America breed within and along the coasts and rivers systems of Alaska and Northwest Canada. It is due to the relatively high breeding density in these regions that the Pacific Flyway is known—moreso than the other flyways—for its Widgeon population.
Green-winged Teal Breeding Range
The Green-winged Teal derives its common name from a key characteristic of both the hens and drakes—the iridescent green patch on their wings. Males also boast a similar iridescence behind their eyes, which offers a striking contrast to the rest of their head, which is a uniquely-colored chestnut red.
Green-wing Teal breed across much of the northern portion of the United States, and while their densest breeding ranges of Alaska and the Prairie Pothole Breeding Region (PPBR) favor the Pacific and Central/Mississippi Flyways respectively, there are also statistically-significant breeding populations in Quebec and Newfoundland that support fall flights in the Atlantic Flyway.
Also, interestingly, throughout the last decade there were small, localized populations of wild breeding teal in and around the Mosquito Creek and Dobbins Creek region of Nevada, in what is otherwise a dry and desolate landscape, and west of Provo, Utah near the Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge.
Blue-winged Teal Breeding Range
The Blue-wing Teal—known for being one of the fastest-flying and earliest-migrating of the puddle ducks—is a prized species amongst the waterfowling community.
Identified by the vivid blue patch on their wings (hence the name) and the white crescent moon on the cheek of the males, Blue-Wing Teal are one of the smallest species of ducks in North America, along with their relatives, the Green-wing Teal and the Cinnamon Teal.
Unlike other species of waterfowl which call several different breeding regions home, the Blue-Wing Teal almost exclusively breeds in the Prairie Pothole Breeding Region (PPBR).
A unique migratory trait of the Blue-wing is that, while most species winter in the southern extents of their flyways within the United States, Blue-wings are known to migrate all the way to Mexico and Central America—and even some of the Caribbean islands—for the winter!
Scaup (Bluebill) Breeding Range
Scaup—oftentimes aptly referred to as the “Bluebill” due to their bills having a pale blue-ish hue—are one of the more prevalent species of ducks classified as “diving ducks” in the United States. While each is referred to as a “Bluebill”, there are actually two distinct species—the Lesser and the Greater Scaup.
While their similarities are oftentimes why both species are referred to as one, there is one absolute surefire way to tell a male Greater Scaup from a male Lesser Scaup—look at the iridescence of the head, or the color of the head’s “shine”. Male Greater Scaup sport a black head with a green iridescence, while male Lesser Scaup sport an iridescence with a darker, purple hue.
Scaup are known to breed extensively in the Prairie Pothole Breeding Region (PPBR) as well as within the river systems of Northwest Canada and Alaska. However, generally speaking, it is the Lesser Scaup that primarily breed in the Prairie Pothole Breeding Region (PPBR), and Greater Scaup that breed in the northern parts of the continent.
Canvasback Breeding Range
Canvasbacks—named for the drakes having a stark white mid-section—are one of the continent’s largest diving ducks. Adult drakes sport a brownish red head, sloping black bill, and uniquely red eyes.
The vast majority of Canvasbacks breed in the Prairie Pothole Breeding Region (PPBR), but throughout the last decade or so there have been sparse breeding pairs found throughout Canada, Alaska and reservoirs of the western United States.
Unfortunately, ever since breeding populations were first tracked back in the 1950’s, the population of Canvasbacks has been very low relative to other popular waterfowl species. Today, the breeding adult population consistently hovers around 650,000. Compare that to Mallards—which have sported a breeding population ranging from 6,000,000 to 9,000,000 in the past decade—and it becomes clear just unique the species is, and how important their population health should be to waterfowl enthusiasts and conservationists.
About the Waterfowl Breeding Range Maps
The waterfowl breeding ranges maps from Migration Station are contour maps created with data from the United States Geological Service’s North American Breeding Bird Survey. This data is collected by the USGS in an attempt to assess the relative density and ranges of breeding birds
These maps do not depict the only areas where these waterfowl breed, but rather the areas of highest density. For example, in and Oklahoma City park, there is consistently a few pairs of Mallards that mate, nest, and rear goslings. However, compared to the breadth of the Prairie Pothole Breeding Region—where every other pond might have a few breeding pairs of Mallards—this Oklahoma City Park is relatively insignificant, and thus is not represented in the graph.
Due to the nature of contour creation and our methods of averaging large amounts of data over a period of recent time, this information is intended to represent a rough approximation. As such, these maps are meant to be illustrative in nature only, and actual concentrations vary year to year depending on a a variety of factors such as, but not limited to, weather, hunting pressure, available habitat, etc.