Bird hunts hold steady for 2018
North American duck populations are looking good and most species remain above their long-term average.
Spring habitat conditions were similar to last year in the portions of the continent surveyed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which contribute birds to Oregon's wintering waterfowl population.
Closer to home, breeding mallard numbers in California, Oregon, and Washington were all up substantially from recent years, likely due to excellent production last year. Production of locally produced waterfowl should be good this year, however, as seasoned waterfowl hunters know, hunting success this fall and winter will be dependent on locating concentrations of birds and hoping the weather cooperates.
The only regulation change hunters should be aware of this season is that the bag limit for pintail has increased back to two per day. Goose populations, both locally breeding Western Canada geese and migrants from the north, remain robust and will provide plenty of hunting opportunity across the state this fall and winter.
Although there was early discussion regarding a possible bag limit increase for cackling Canada geese in the Northwest Permit Goose Zone, hunters should be aware that the bag limit for this upcoming season is unchanged from last season.
Hunters should also consider giving mourning dove hunting a try this coming season. This season traditionally opens on Sept. 1, before most of the early migrants have left the state. Just like waterfowl, hunters should scout for concentrations of doves which will usually be close to food sources, often harvested grain fields, or waterholes.
Although the largest concentrations of doves are likely to be found in agricultural areas of Eastern Oregon, huntable numbers can be found in most areas, so long as they are not heavily forested. This season is a great way to introduce new and young hunters to wing-shooting, since the weather is usually nice and no special equipment is necessary. Hunters are reminded that a migratory HIP validation for the 2018/19 season is required to hunt mourning doves, just as it is for waterfowl.
Upland game bird hunting is going to be above average for most species this year. Upland game bird populations can vary greatly from year to year, primarily due to variable weather events and habitat conditions. Oregon had a mild winter, bringing hens into the nesting season in good condition.
Some heavy, but short-lived, late spring precipitation may have impacted hatching and brood success, likely resulting in some re-nesting attempts. Therefore, hunters may encounter some younger broods this fall, particularly in Central Oregon. Habitat conditions are very dry going in to fall. Lack of precipitation can mean chicks need to work harder to find important high-protein insects, reduced vegetative cover from predators, and vulnerable concentrations of birds around water sources. Surveys suggest minimal impact to upland bird numbers at this time.
2018 bird surveys
Here's what surveys found for upland bird species:
This should be a remarkable year for Eastern Oregon pheasants, compared to recent trends. Pheasant abundance came in at twice the 10-year average on summer brood routes, with highest densities in the Umatilla, Heppner, and Malheur districts, respectively. Pheasant brood production was highest in the Mid-Columbia, Malheur, Heppner and Umatilla districts, respectively. Malheur County pheasants are slightly down, but locally abundant in the remaining good quality habitat.
Statewide California (valley) quail populations continue on their upward trend, exceeding the 10-year average by 33 percent. The highest production effort by California quail was observed in the Mid-Columbia, Grant County, and the South Coast. Biologists found the highest overall densities in Malheur, Harney, and Grant counties.
Chukar, known for their large annual population fluctuations, have bounced back in most areas following an excellent year of production in 2017. Overall, expect a banner year in the Columbia, Deschutes and John Day basins, with improved numbers in Malheur and Harney counties.
Hunters may want to stick to the west side to pursue forest grouse. Biologists encountered very few forest grouse during summer surveys in Eastern Oregon. It seems that both ruffed and blue grouse in the Blue Mountains and the West Cascades are reaching a trough in their population cycle. This is a normal function of grouse populations and there should be better years ahead.
Forest grouse are notoriously difficult to survey in Western Oregon, but the bright spot is Coast Range blue (sooty) grouse detections of hooting males were the highest in seven years. Anecdotal observations suggest excellent ruffed grouse production in both the western Cascades and the Coast Range.