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Snow, bitter cold result in fewer birds during North Dakota midwinter waterfowl survey

The midwinter survey tallied 81,000 Canada geese and 7,000 mallards in North Dakota, compared with the 10-year average since 2012 of 123,100 Canada geese and 24,700 mallards.

NDGF Canada geese
Canada geese stand on ice adjacent to open water in this undated North Dakota photo.
Contributed / North Dakota Game and Fish Department
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GRAND FORKS — The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s annual midwinter waterfowl survey in early January tallied about 81,000 Canada geese in the state.

That number likely would have been higher, but snow and bitterly cold weather in late December undoubtedly pushed some birds south just before the survey, said Andy Dinges, migratory game bird biologist for Game and Fish.

“The number of waterfowl recorded dropped substantially from last year’s survey, but that was a relatively mild winter with little snow accumulation,” Dinges said.

In addition, Lake Sakakawea didn’t officially freeze over until Jan. 24 last year, which was the latest date on record.

“Despite recent weather, we are still wintering a good number of waterfowl this year and conditions remain fair for wintering birds, unless we get too much snow accumulation,” Dinges said.


During the survey, an estimated 55,000 Canada geese were observed on the Missouri River, and another 21,100 on Nelson Lake in Oliver County. After summarizing the numbers, an additional 7,000 mallards were tallied statewide, Dinges said, most of which were recorded on Nelson Lake. Lake Sakakawea officially froze over just a few days before the survey this year.

The 10-year average for the midwinter survey since 2012 in North Dakota is 123,100 Canada geese and 24,700 mallards.

All states participate in the midwinter survey during the same time frame to reduce the possibility of counting birds more than once.

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