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2018-2019 Migratory Bird Season
Information and Population Status

 

by Ted Nichols, Principal Biologist
Waterfowl Ecology and Management Program
March 15, 2018

The NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife recently finalized the selection of the state's 2018-19 migratory bird hunting season regulations.

Below are notable highlights:
  • The pintail daily bag limit was increased to 2 birds.

  • The black duck daily bag limit will remain at 2 birds, similar to last year.

  • The season for woodcock will be longer than previous years since states like New Jersey with statutory Sunday hunting closures were given compensatory days by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

  • 2018 is the third year for the new federal regulatory process where migratory bird season dates are set earlier in the year.

Each year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) develops migratory bird hunting regulations with input and consultation with the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific Flyway Councils. The Flyway Councils are comprised of representatives from state and provincial wildlife agencies that work with the Service to cooperatively manage North America's migratory bird populations.

Beginning in 2016, the Service and Flyway Councils developed a new schedule for migratory game bird hunting regulations. This cycle results in season dates and bag limits being set much earlier than was possible under the previous process that had been used since the 1950s. This new process will make hunting season planning more convenient for migratory bird hunters.

During the annual regulatory cycle, biologists gather, analyze, and interpret biological survey data and provide this information through published status and administrative reports. To determine the appropriate frameworks for each species, biologists consider factors such as population size and trend, geographical distribution, annual breeding effort, the condition of breeding and wintering habitat, the number of hunters, and the anticipated harvest. Although survey results still govern decisions for annual hunting seasons, the new process will no longer consider the current year's survey data but rather be based on predictions derived from long term biological information and established harvest strategies.

Dog among goose decoys
Goose decoys are unperturbed by mischievous dog
Click to enlarge

"REGULAR" DUCKS

Sunrise over a decoy spread
Sunrise over a decoy spread
Click to enlarge
Duck hunting regulations are based on biological population assessments using the Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) process, which has been developed cooperatively by the Service and Flyway Councils. AHM is an objective, science-based regulation-setting process. During 2018, the AHM process suggested that a liberal duck hunting season in all flyways was consistent with the long-term welfare of North American waterfowl populations. In Atlantic Flyway states including New Jersey, liberal duck hunting season frameworks include a 60-day season with a 6-duck bag limit. New Jersey has had 60-day duck seasons since 1997.

New Jersey is an important migration and wintering area for American black ducks which are often referred to as the "bread and butter" duck of salt marsh hunters. After more than 30 years with a 1-black duck bag daily limit, hunters in New Jersey and the U.S. were allowed a 2-bird limit in 2017. The 2-bird bag will remain for 2018. Three developments led to this change:

1) Both eastern Canada and the eastern U.S. have seen the number of duck hunters decline since the 1980s, as well as the harvest of black ducks.
2) Due to the implementation of surveys in the 1990s, wildlife managers have much better biological information on black ducks than they had during the first 20 years of restrictive black duck bag limits. These monitoring data suggest the black duck population is stable.
3) The biological data now available has enabled biologists to construct a black duck population model that is the basis for an International Black Duck Harvest Strategy.

Additional detailed information on this topic can be found in the Black Duck 2018-19 Regulations Flyer and FAQs (pdf, 590kb) document.

This year, the daily bag limit in New Jersey will be 6 ducks in aggregate and may not include more than 4 mallards (including no more than 2 hens), 4 scoters (in aggregate), 4 long-tailed ducks, 4 eiders, 3 wood ducks, 2 black ducks, 2 scaup, 2 redheads, 2 canvasbacks, and 2 pintails. The pintail bag limit was increased due to the improved status of pintails and as directed by the Adaptive Harvest Management Strategy adopted by all 4 flyways for pintail harvest management. The bag limit is 6 ducks for all other duck species. Merganser bag limits will remain at 5 birds per day with no more than 2 hooded mergansers. Merganser bag limits are in addition to regular duck bag limits.

For the second straight year and at the request of sportsmen, the second duck season segment (split) in both the North and South Zones will begin later in November and end later in January this year. In addition, the second split in the Coastal Zone will open Thanksgiving Day and run to the end of the Federal season date framework (last Sunday in January). The remaining 3 days will be held around the Veterans Day holiday. Given New Jersey's zoning alignment, and 2018-19 season selections, duck hunters who are willing to travel across zone boundaries can hunt 80 different days, including 15 different Saturdays, during the 60-day duck season (see 2018-2019 Duck Seasons Table (pdf, 80kb)).

CANADA GEESE

The "regular" Canada goose season in New Jersey's North and South Zones is based on the status of Atlantic Population (AP) Canada geese which nest on the Ungava Peninsula of northern Quebec. The AP is New Jersey's primary migrant Canada goose population. The breeding population has been stable for the past 10 years so the "regular" Canada goose season will remain the same as the past 5 years with a 50-day season and 3-bird bag limit in the North and South Zones.

Because the Coastal Zone has relatively few band recoveries from migrant population (AP and North Atlantic Population) Canada geese, it is managed as a Resident Population Canada Goose Zone. Resident Population Zones have been used in Atlantic Flyway states since 2002 and include portions of the Flyway that have relatively few migrant geese during fall and winter. Resident Population Zones can have more liberal goose hunting seasons (80 days with 5-bird bag) than migrant population zones.

Resident Population (RP) Canada geese are overabundant throughout most of the United States and cause significant damage problems. As a result, additional hunting methods including the use of electronic calls, unplugged shotguns, extended hunting hours, and liberal bag limits are allowed during September hunting seasons. September seasons target RP geese since very few Atlantic Population or migrant geese arrive in New Jersey prior to October. Hunters need to remember that these special regulations only apply to the September Canada goose season (September 1-29, 2018). Hunters that choose to use unplugged guns during the September Canada goose season are reminded to reinstall magazine plugs before pursuing other game species.

Father and son with Canada goose harvest
Passing on the tradition
Click to enlarge
Red numbered leg band on brand
Atlantic brant with tarsal band
Click to enlarge
ATLANTIC BRANT

Since Atlantic brant breed in remote wilderness of the Canadian Arctic, their status is measured during the Mid-Winter Waterfowl survey done in January on their Atlantic Flyway coastal wintering grounds. Results of this survey are the primary data considered when setting annual hunting regulations along with other factors such as young production during recent years and food supply.

Although the brant population declined significantly during the early 2010s due to several successive years of poor young production on Canadian breeding grounds, brant have fared much better during the past 2 breeding seasons and the total population has responded well. A total of 165,800 brant were estimated in the 2018 Mid-Winter Survey and as a result, the brant season will be 60 days with a 2-bird bag and be concurrent with the duck season in all zones.

Given the importance of New Jersey to Atlantic brant ecology, the Division of Fish and Wildlife recently kicked-off a 5-year collaborative Atlantic brant study with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Canadian Wildlife Service. During the next two years, crews will be banding brant with various markers to answer several questions on brant ecology.

More information can be found at:
www.njfishandwildlife.com/news/2018/brantstudy18.htm

LIGHT GEESE

Greater and lesser snow geese as well as Ross's geese are collectively referred to as "light" geese. Light goose populations remain high and biologists are concerned about the impacts light geese have on fragile Arctic nesting habitats. Serious damage to Arctic wetlands has already been documented in several key light goose breeding colonies. This damage impacts the light geese themselves, as well as other wildlife dependent on the Arctic ecosystem. Serious damage to agriculture also occurs in migration and wintering areas. Due to this overabundance, the Service is expected to again implement a Conservation Order (CO).

A CO is a special management action, authorized by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that is needed to control certain wildlife populations when traditional management programs are unsuccessful in preventing overabundance of that population. The CO allows an extended time period outside of traditional hunting seasons as well as additional methods for taking light geese without bag limits. The intent of the CO is to reduce and/or stabilize North American light goose populations that are above population objectives.

In the Atlantic Flyway, greater snow geese are the most abundant light goose population. The 2017 spring estimate was 750,000 birds which is 50% above the population objective of 500,000 birds. During the past 10 years however, this population has shown a stable trend suggesting that liberal and special regulations implemented in both Quebec and the U.S., have stemmed the aggressive population growth that was occurring during the 1990s.

Due to the current large population size, the hunting season length for light geese will be the maximum allowed under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (107 days) with liberal bag limits of 25 light geese per day with no possession limit. In addition, a CO implemented in the spring will allow hunters to pursue light geese for the duration of the migration and wintering period. During the CO, special regulations will be allowed including the use of electronic calls, shotguns capable of holding up to 7 shells, extended shooting hours, and no bag limits. (The spring 2018 CO is in effect until April 7, 2018.)

YOUTH WATERFOWL HUNTING DAYS

Since 1997, the US Fish and Wildlife Service have allowed states to hold Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days on non-school days when youths have an opportunity to participate. Youth Days are held when waterfowl seasons are closed to the general hunting public. The objective of Youth Days is to introduce young hunters to the concepts of ethical use and stewardship of waterfowl, encourage youngsters and adults to experience the outdoors together, and to contribute to the long-term conservation of the migratory bird resource. Youth Days are a unique educational opportunity, above and beyond the regular season, which helps ensure high-quality learning experiences for youth interested in hunting.

New Jersey will hold 2 Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days in each zone. Each zone will have a youth day prior to the opening of the first split of the duck season (October or November) as well as an "end-loaded" Youth Day in February. Mentors willing to travel across zones could potentially take youths on 5 different hunting days.

WEBLESS SPECIES

New Jersey has always been an important migration area for rails and woodcock. Some of the highest concentrations of sora occur in New Jersey's tidal freshwater marshes that are dominated by wild rice. In addition, woodcock pass through New Jersey during fall with 50% of the state's harvest occurring in Sussex County and 25% in Cape May County. Although not nearly as popular as days gone by, New Jersey still has a tradition of "mud hen" or clapper rail hunters in early September along the Atlantic Coast.

This year, at the request of the Atlantic Flyway Council, the US Fish and Wildlife Service granted states with statutory Sunday hunting closures the opportunity to get compensatory days for those lost Sundays for webless (non-waterfowl) migratory bird species. Due to this change, all hunting seasons for webless species, particularly notable for woodcock, will be longer.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

All hunters pursuing migratory birds including ducks, geese, brant, coot, woodcock, rails, snipe or gallinules, are reminded to obtain a Harvest Information Program (HIP) certification. The process is the same as last year. Migratory bird hunters can get their HIP certification one of three ways: online by visiting the Division's license sales web site, at any license agent, or by calling the toll-free NJ telephone sales line at 888-277-2015. The 2018-19 New Jersey migratory bird hunting season dates follow. Due to the earlier timing of annual regulation process, the NJ Migratory Bird Regulations leaflet is no longer published. Migratory bird regulations will be included in the 2018 Hunting and Trapping Digest , available at Division offices and license agents in August.

2018-2019 Migratory Bird Seasons Summary (pdf, 100kb)
2018-2019 Duck Seasons Table (pdf, 80kb)

Harvest Information Program (HIP) Certification Information

American woodcock
American Woodcock
click to enlarge

Waterfowl and Migratory Birds in New Jersey

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Last Updated: March 15, 2018