Population Status of Migratory Game Birds in Canada 2014

To obtain a copy of the full version of the 2014 Populations Status of Migratory Game Birds in Canada report, please contact MBRegs.Reports@ec.gc.ca

- Executive Summaries -

Canadian Wildlife Service
Waterfowl Committee

The Canadian Wildlife Habitat Conservation Stamp, entitled Sun Kissed Cinnamon
2014 Canadian Wildlife Habitat Conservation Stamp
The Canadian Wildlife Habitat Conservation Stamp, entitled Sun Kissed Cinnamon, features the Cinnamon Teal
© Creation of the Canadian wildlife artist Lori Boast of Winnipeg, Manitoba

Cover Art:

Through a special partnership with Environment Canada, Wildlife Habitat Canada receives the revenues from the sale of the Canadian Wildlife Habitat Conservation Stamp, purchased primarily by waterfowl hunters to validate their Migratory Game Bird Hunting Permits. The conservation stamp is also sold to stamp and print collectors and those interested in contributing to habitat conservation. In 2013-2014, Wildlife Habitat Canada provided 37 grants totaling more than $1.5 million. This in turn helped leverage an additional $11.3 million in partner funding for conservation projects, resulting in the conservation, restoration and enhancement of more than 96 000 acres of wildlife habitat across Canada.

For more information on Wildlife Habitat Canada or the conservation stamp and print program, please call Wildlife Habitat Canada at 613-722-2090 (in the Ottawa Region) or toll-free at 1-800-669-7919, or consult at: wildlife habitat Canada.


Environment Canada is responsible for the conservation of migratory game birds in Canada and the management of sustainable hunting of these birds. The hunting regulations for migratory game birds are reviewed and amended biennially by Environment Canada, with input from provinces and territories, as well as various other stakeholders.

The population status of migratory game birds is assessed on an annual basis to ensure that the regulations are appropriate. Thus, Environment Canada's Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) produces a report entitled "Population Status of Migratory Game Birds in Canada". This report contains population and other biological information on migratory game birds. Indeed, the CWS supports a variety of surveys to monitor migratory game birds in their breeding, wintering, staging, and moulting areas. The monitoring programs include surveys of breeding waterfowl to estimate population size and productivity, and harvest surveys to estimate the size of the harvest and assess the impacts of hunting regulations on populations. The data obtained from these monitoring programs are used in this report to assess the status of migratory birds in Canada, thus providing the scientific basis for managing waterfowl and setting sustainable hunting regulations. This information ensures that hunting does not jeopardize the sustainability of harvested waterfowl populations. The status of each migratory game bird species in Canada is summarized below.

To obtain a copy of the full version of the 2014 Populations Status of Migratory Game Birds in Canada report, please contact MBRegs.Reports@ec.gc.ca

Executive Summaries

American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)

The American Black Duck breeds primarily in northeastern America. Black Ducks have traditionally been one of the most abundant duck species encountered in this landscape; however, the species declined in abundance over the middle of the last century. Causes for this decline are thought to be the effects of changes in breeding and wintering habitat quality, overharvesting, and interactions (competition, hybridization) with Mallards. It appears now, that the population has remained relatively stable since the 1990s. Harvest of Black Duck has declined over time; however, the Black Duck remains a sought-after waterfowl species by hunters in Canada and the United-States.

American Coot (Fulica americana)

The American Coot breeds from British Columbia to Ontario, with high densities in the Prairie Provinces. At the beginning of the century, wetland loss and overhunting led to a significant population decline, but the population has since recovered and is showing an increase. In Canada, the harvest of American Coot has diminished over the years contrary to the United States where it has remained constant.

American Wigeon (Anas americana)

The American Wigeon's breeding range is centred in western Canada. American Wigeon numbers have been increasing steadily throughout most of the species' range, particularly in the Canadian Prairies and the Western Boreal Forest, this after major declines in the 1980s that were the result of prolonged periods of drought. Elsewhere, where the species is less abundant, its population has remained relatively stable, or shown slight declines. The Canadian harvest of this species has remained fairly stable since the 1980s.

American Woodcock (Scolopax minor)

There are two distinct American Woodcock populations: the Central Population, which includes individuals breeding in Manitoba and Ontario, and the Eastern Population, which encompasses breeding birds in Quebec and the Maritimes. Numbers for both populations suggest a moderate decrease in population size relative to that of the early 1970s. A possible reason for their decline is the loss of suitable (early succession) wintering and breeding habitat. The American Woodcock is a popular migratory game bird in Canada and even more so in the United States. However, its harvest has declined in Canada during the last decade, and to an even greater extent in the United States.

Band-tailed Pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata)

In Canada, the Band-tailed Pigeon is found in the forested habitats of coastal British Columbia. The species has shown a large decrease in population since the 1970s, due in part to overhunting. Harvest has been severely limited in Canada for the past 20 years in agreement with the management plan for the species. The Band-tailed Pigeon was listed in 2011 as a species of "Special Concern" under the Species at Risk Act .

Barrow's Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica)

Two geographically isolated populations of Barrow's Goldeneye are found in Canada: a small Eastern Population and a much larger Western Population. The Eastern Population was listed in 2003 as a species of "Special Concern" in Schedule 1 of the federal Species at Risk Act . As a result, the daily bag limit was restricted to one bird per day, in agreement with the species management plan. Due to its localized distribution and the low number of hunters sampled in the areas in which Barrow's Goldeneye are found, Canadian harvest estimates for this species are not well documented.

Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)

The Blue-winged Teal breeds throughout much of Canada with its core breeding range located in the Prairie Pothole Region. While its population has been significantly increasing since the early 1990s, the southern Ontario and Quebec populations have remained relatively stable following dramatic declines in past decades. Agricultural development and habitat destruction in eastern Canada are considered possible reasons for the species' decline and, consequently, restrictive regulations have been in implemented in Quebec. Generally, fewer Blue-winged Teals are harvested in Canada compared to Green-winged Teals.

Brant (Branta bernicla)

Brant are Arctic-nesting geese. There are four distinct populations of Brant recognized in North America. These are: Atlantic, Eastern High Arctic, Black and Western High Arctic populations. Recent estimates of the Atlantic population suggest a population size of approximately 200 000 birds. The number of Eastern High Arctic Brant is estimated through counts on wintering grounds; the 2013 results suggested a population of approximately 35 000 birds. Black and Western Arctic population numbers are assessed during winter surveys, when it is difficult to distinguish the two types of Brant, and therefore to estimate the population size of each population.

Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

The Bufflehead is the smallest of the North American diving ducks and uses tree cavities to nest. The species occurs from coast to coast, but is more abundant in western regions of Canada. Overall, the continental population is increasing. Since 2000, the Canadian harvest has remained relatively stable, but has been much lower compared to historic levels observed in the 1970s.

Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii)

In 2004, the American Ornithologists' Union identified two species of geese from the one species previously referred to as the Canada Goose: the Canada Goose and the Cackling Goose. In Canada, the Mid-continent Population of Cackling Geese includes all Cackling Geese nesting in the Arctic ecozone north of the tree line; these mostly migrate through the prairies and winter mainly in areas of the Central and Mississippi Flyways. Although concrete population estimates are difficult to obtain for this species due to the remoteness of its breeding range, the Cackling Geese Population appears to be stable or increasing. Harvest levels for this species are high and have been stable since the beginning of the century.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

Canada Geese are grouped into different management populations based on their breeding and wintering ranges. The subarctic-breeding populations have remained relatively stable since the early 2000s, whereas the temperate-breeding populations have grown so quickly that they have caused conflicts with humans, crop damage, and even hazards in some areas (e.g. airport). To mitigate these issues, their harvest has been liberalized in recent years and as a result, harvest has in fact increased.

Canvasback (Aythya valisineria)

The Canvasback is the largest duck species in North America. Its core breeding area is in the Prairie Provinces, but it is one of the least abundant species in Canada. Despite fluctuations due to annual changes in water levels, the population has increased since declining in the 1980s. The Canvasback is mostly hunted in the Prairies provinces.

Common Eider (Somateria mollissima)

The Common Eider inhabits Arctic and Subarctic coastal marine habitats and has a circumpolar distribution that includes Russia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland. The species spends its entire life cycle in marine environments; it nests in large colonies, mostly on marine islands, and forms large aggregations in inshore coastal regions during the non-breeding season. There are four subspecies of Common Eiders. Information on population size and trends for the Common eider, as for most sea ducks, is unavailable or unreliable because of the remoteness of the breeding and wintering areas, as well as the lack of regular population surveys. In Canada, Common Eiders are harvested for Aboriginal subsistence purposes (adults, eggs). They are also harvested recreationally, and their down is collected commercially. In some regions, data suggest that the harvest needs to be carefully monitored to ensure it remains sustainable.

Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata)

The Common Gallinule is a secretive marsh bird that is primarily found in southern Ontario and southwestern Quebec, with some birds also found in eastern New Brunswick and western Nova Scotia. Population estimates are not available for all of Canada but data from Ontario show a significant decline. Consequently, in 2012, the CWS-Ontario Region, in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, initiated a pilot banding project of gallinule in Ontario. The species has been listed as a priority species in Ontario, with the objective of reversing its decline. There are no annual harvest estimates for Common Gallinules available in Canada, but the harvest is likely small.

Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

In North America, the Common Goldeneye breeds in tree cavities across the boreal forest regions of Canada and Alaska. The population in western Canada has been steadily increasing since the 1970s and the 1980s, while the population in eastern Canada has remained stable. The harvest of Common Goldeneyes has been decreasing since the 1980s and takes place mainly in eastern Canada.

Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)

The Common Merganser is the largest of the three North American merganser species. It breeds across Canada, wherever trees are large enough to support suitable nesting cavities. The population size and trends for mergansers are not reliably known, as many aerial surveys do not distinguish between the three species, whose breeding ranges overlap extensively. An important part of the species' breeding range (boreal forest) is not covered by surveys. However, the three merganser species can be reliably identified during helicopter-based plot surveys in eastern Canada. In Eastern Canada, Common Merganser numbers appear to have been stable since 2000.

Gadwall (Anas strepera)

The Gadwall is a common duck species found in Canada, with its core breeding area located in the Prairies. The species has shown a dramatic population increase throughout most of its range and has doubled since the 1990s, following a period of prolonged drought in the 1980s. The large majority of the Gadwall harvest has taken place in the Prairie Provinces and has remained stable over the last several decades, but it remains smaller than the harvest in the United States.

Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)

The Green-winged Teal is a widely distributed and relatively abundant species in Canada. Unlike many other dabbling ducks, the species' core breeding range is not located in the Prairie Potholes, but in the boreal forest. In western Canada, Green-winged Teal numbers have increased steadily since the early 1990s, whereas in eastern Canada, numbers have remained relatively stable over the same time period. It is the most hunted among duck species in Canada, after the Mallard and the Black Duck, with a harvest level that has remained relatively stable since early 2000s. Nevertheless, the harvest is only a fraction of the harvest taking place in the United States.

Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) and Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)

Two scaup species occur in North America, the Greater Scaup and the Lesser Scaup. These two closely related species are nearly identical in overall appearance, which can cause difficulties distinguishing them. The breeding population status of scaup (Greater and Lesser Scaup, combined) in North America became a conservation concern due to apparent declines from the historically high levels observed in the 1970s. Their populations have not yet fully recovered, and research to understand the cause of this decline is ongoing.

The Greater Scaup is the larger of the two species and is the only diving duck with a circumpolar breeding distribution. In North America, the Greater Scaup is widely distributed across Arctic and Subarctic regions.

The Lesser Scaup is the smaller of the two scaup species and is the most abundant and widespread diving duck in North America. The core breeding area for the Lesser Scaup is the western boreal and Prairie/Parkland Regions, but it also nests at lower densities in eastern Canada.

The Lesser Scaup is the most abundant of the two scaup species and is also the species that is predominantly harvested.

Greater Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens atlantica)

Greater Snow Geese breed in the Canadian Eastern High Arctic, with the largest nesting colony on Bylot Island, Nunavut. During migration, the entire population stages in the marshes and agricultural lands of southern Quebec, but a small part of the population recently began to migrate through eastern Ontario and northern New Brunswick. The Greater Snow Goose population has undergone a dramatic increase from a few thousand individuals in the 1930s to one million birds in 1999. Greater Snow Geese have been designated as "overabundant" and have been subject to special conservation measures to control their numbers. In fact, harvest regulations were liberalized and a spring conservation season was established in Quebec in 1999, and subsequently extended in 2012 to southeastern Ontario. Since the implementation of special conservation measures, the growth of the Greater Snow Goose population appears to have been halted, and the population has remained relatively stable, fluctuating between approximately 700 000 and 1 million birds annually.

Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)

The Greater White-fronted Goose has one of the largest ranges of any species of goose in the world. In North America, it breeds across a broad region of the Arctic, from Alaska to the west coast of Hudson Bay. White-fronted Geese that breed in Canada belong to the Mid-continent population. The population has increased substantially since the late 1980s. Recent estimates suggest a population size of about 2.4 million adults. Most mid-continent White-fronted Geese migrate through Alberta and Saskatchewan in the fall, where most of its Canadian harvest occurs.

Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus)

Until the 1990s, little was known of the ecology of Harlequin Ducks in North America. However, research efforts have since improved our understanding of this species, at least in some areas. For management purposes, there are two distinct populations of Harlequin Ducks in North America - the Western Population along the Pacific coast, and the much larger Eastern Population, along the Atlantic coast. Although the Western Population is smaller, its population appears to have remained relatively stable over the years and harvest of the species is thought to be uncommon. The Eastern Population declined in the 1980s, likely because of overharvesting. In 2003, it was listed as a species of "Special Concern" under the Canadian Species at Risk Act . The population has shown improvement since its harvest was prohibited in eastern Canada in 1990.

Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)

The Hooded Merganser is the smallest of the three merganser species and is the only one that occurs solely in North America. The species breeds mostly in eastern Canada, where it occurs in the highest densities in the Great Lakes Region in southern Ontario, and in Quebec. The species is also found in southeast Saskatchewan, southern Manitoba, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. It is thought to be one of the least abundant species of sea duck in Canada, but its population status and numbers are difficult to determine accurately, due to the species' secretive nature, its association with forested wetlands, and the fact that it nests in tree cavities. Furthermore, it is difficult to differentiate between the three species during fixed-wing aerial surveys, and an important part of its breeding range (in the boreal forest) is not covered by surveys.

King Eider (Somateria spectabilis)

The King Eider has a circumpolar distribution. Among the sea ducks, this species is one of the most northerly nesting. There are two King Eider populations: the Western Arctic and the Eastern Arctic Populations. Based on limited data, both populations appear to be locally stable or declining. Subsistence Aboriginal harvest in Canada, Alaska and Russia represents the majority of the take for this species. Information on population trends and harvest is limited.

Lesser Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens caerulescens)

Lesser Snow Geese nest in colonies ranging from a few hundred to several hundred thousand birds in coastal and inland areas of the Arctic. There are three populations of Lesser Snow Geese: the Mid-continent Population, the Western Arctic Population and the Wrangel Island population. Mid-continent Lesser Snow Geese have increased dramatically in numbers since the 1970s, from numbers averaging at 2 million to more than 12 million in recent years. The Mid-continent Lesser Snow Goose population has been designated as "overabundant", and has been subject since 1999 to special measures to control its size. Recent estimates suggest that the size of the mid-continent population could be as high as 13 million birds. In 2014, the western Arctic Population was also designated as overabundant.

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)

Despite indications of long-term declines, the Long-tailed Duck remains the most abundant Arctic sea duck in North America. The population appears to have stabilized since the early 1990s. The Long-tailed Duck has a circumpolar distribution and, in North America, pairs breed at low densities in remote Arctic and Subarctic areas. During most of the year, birds are found primarily in coastal marine waters, often far offshore. The Long-tailed Duck is not commonly harvested by recreational hunters in Canada, due to the strong taste of its flesh. However, it is believed to be an important species in the Aboriginal subsistence harvest.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

The Mallard is the most abundant and most widely distributed dabbling duck species in Canada and is most abundant in the Prairie Provinces. Mallards have been spreading eastward for decades and are now well established in New Brunswick, though they remain rare in Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. The species' population size has remained relatively stable or increased since the drought periods of the 1980s. The Mallard is the most extensively hunted duck species across the country.

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

The Mourning Dove is one of the most familiar and most heavily harvested migratory game birds (mostly in the United States). It is also one of the most abundant and most widespread bird species in North America. This species is a common breeder in urban and rural areas across southern Canada, reaching its highest breeding densities within the Lower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Plain Region of Ontario and Quebec in the east, and within the Prairie Pothole Region of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta in the west. The Mourning Dove is monitored in Canada through the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). Results from this survey indicate that the population has increased markedly since 1970, but has leveled off during the most recent decade. A hunting season was opened in 2013 in Ontario.


There are two murre species:

  • Common Murre (Uria aalge)
  • Thick-billed Murre (Uria lomvia)

In Canada, both species are most abundant on the Atlantic coast, with small numbers of Common Murres breeding in B.C. and small numbers of Thick-bill Murres breeding in the western Arctic. Numbers for both species have been drastically reduced over the last century because of human disturbance, overhunting, oil pollution and probably commercial fisheries development. Murres are hunted by residents of Newfoundland and Labrador and by native people. Newfoundland residents were granted hunting rights soon after they entered Confederation, in 1949. The harvest was excessive until 1994, when it was regulated; however, enforcement remains difficult.

Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)

The Northern Pintail is one of the most abundant waterfowl species in Canada. The species is found across the country, with its core breeding range located in the Prairie Pothole Region of western Canada. Annual nest success and productivity estimates vary with precipitation conditions in the Prairies: periods of extended drought have led to dramatic population declines, most notably in the Canadian Prairies. Since 1990, the population has been slowly increasing, but has yet to recover completely.

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)

In Canada, the core breeding range of Northern Shovelers is in the Prairie Pothole and Parkland Regions of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba. The continental population has seen a significant increase since the 1990s, following a period of drought in the prairies in the 1980s. Despite a steady population increase, the Canadian harvest of this species has remained relatively stable.


There are four species of rails found in Canada:

  • Virginia Rail (Rallus limicola)
  • Yellow Rail (Coturnicops noveboracensis)
  • King Rail (Rallus elegans)
  • Sora (Porzana carolina)

Rails are secretive marsh birds that breed and stage in many wetlands in Canada. Most often, they remain hidden in dense emergent vegetation, which makes surveying and hunting challenging. The Virginia Rail and Sora populations appear to be increasing and the harvest for these species is allowed, although it is thought to be very low. Conversely, Yellow and King Rail populations are believed to be declining, at least locally. The Yellow Rail was listed in 2003 as a species of "Special Concern" under the Species at Risk Act, and the King Rail was listed the same year as "Endangered". Neither species, the Yellow Rail or the King Rail, can be legally hunted in Canada.

Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)

The Red-breasted Merganser has a wide range in North America and is known to breed at high latitudes (up to 75°N). It is thought to be one of the least abundant species of sea ducks in Canada, but its population status and numbers are difficult to determine accurately due to the species' secretive nature, the remoteness of parts of its breeding range, and its habit of nesting in tree cavities.

Redhead (Aythya americana)

The Redhead breeds exclusively in North America, primarily in the Prairie Pothole Region of Canada and the United States. The continental population is increasing and has largely recovered since its decline following periods of drought in the 1990s. The vast majority of Redheads are harvested in the United States.

Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)

The Ring-necked Duck is a common diving duck that breeds throughout the boreal forest in Canada. Its range extends from southern Yukon to Newfoundland. Its population has been steadily increasing in the Prairie Provinces since the 1990s, whereas it has remained stable in eastern Canada. The harvest of Ring-necked Ducks in Canada has remained relatively stable in the last 20 years, the Ring-necked Duck being a sought-after waterfowl species by hunters. A much larger harvest occurs in the United States.

Ross's Goose (Chen rossii)

The vast majority of Ross' Geese breed in the Queen Maud Gulf Region in the central Canadian Arctic, but increasing numbers are being found along the western coast of the Hudson Bay. Considered a rare species in the early part of the last century, Ross' Goose has shown increasing numbers since the mid-1990s. The population is estimated to be between 1.5 and 2.5 million birds. Ross' Geese have been designated as overabundant and are subject to special measures to control their numbers.

Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)

The Ruddy Duck is not an abundant species in Canada, and it is mainly found in the Prairie Pothole Region of Canada. Ruddy Duck numbers are stable or increasing throughout most of its North American breeding range. The species is not an important game bird species in Canada.

Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)

Two Sandhill Crane populations breed in Canada: the Mid-continent Population, and the Eastern Population. The Mid-continent Population, which is the more abundant of the two, is stable, while the Eastern Population shows a long-term increasing trend. The Canadian harvest of this species is only allowed in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon. The harvest has been variable, but has increased slightly over the years.


The three species of scoters that breed in Canada are:

  • Black Scoter (Melanitta americana),
  • Surf Scoter (M. perspicillata)
  • White-winged Scoter (M. Fusca)

Less is known about scoters than any other group of sea ducks, but among the three species, the White-winged Scoter is the best known. Research efforts in recent years have led to a better understanding of the breeding, moulting and wintering ecology of this group of species. There are currently no surveys that provide good population or trends estimates for scoters. Despite this, in western Canada, scoter numbers for all three species appear to have declined compared to historic levels, although they have remained stable over the last twenty years. Additional information is needed to better assess the status of scoter populations in Canada.

Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)

There are three populations of Trumpeter Swans in North America: the Pacific Coast Population, the Rocky Mountain Population, and the Interior Population. The three populations have reached or exceeded their population objectives and are increasing. Hunting Trumpeter Swans is illegal in Canada and the United States.

Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus)

The Tundra Swan is the most abundant and widespread of the two swan species native to the continent (the Mute Swan being an introduced species). Tundra Swans are managed as two distinct populations-- the Eastern Population and the Western Population, primarily based on affiliations with each of their traditional major wintering areas occurring along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Mid-winter surveys are used as the primary means of tracking annual abundance and trends of each Tundra Swan Population. Numbers for the Eastern Population appear to have increased slightly over the last decade. No data were available to estimate a trend for the Western Population. Tundra Swan hunting is strictly regulated in the United States, but closed in Canada.

Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata)

The Wilson's Snipe is one of the most abundant and widespread shorebirds in North America. However, due to its elusive nature, it is difficult to monitor. Nevertheless, its overall numbers appear to be stable since the late 1960s and early 1970s. The species is hunted at low levels in Canada and the harvest level has been stable over the last decade. Wilson's Snipe is hunted much more heavily in the United States than in Canada.

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)

The Wood Duck is a secretive cavity nesting species that is commonly found in swamps, marshes and riparian habitats in Canada. In Canada, it primarily breeds in eastern provinces with most Wood Ducks breeding in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. In western Canada, the breeding population is small and found in scattered locations extending from southern British Columbia to the extreme southwest of Alberta. Once threatened with extinction, populations of Wood Duck are now stable or increasing in Canada. The Wood Duck is a sought-after waterfowl species by hunters in Canada.

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