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Number of ducks killed in Australia 2023

Life in the air

“If the numbers being reported by the environment departments in the duck shooting states are to be believed, then Victoria is responsible for 77 per cent of the annual slaughter of waterbirds”.

Peter Hylands

December 15, 2023

The breakdown by duck shooting state for 2023 is as follows (Northern Territory excluded in the initial estimate):

  • Victoria – 320,000
  • Tasmania – 50,000
  • South Australia – 27,000
  • New South Wales – 12,000
  • Other mitigation – 15,000

TOTAL – 424,000 (excludes significant number of birds that are wounded and die over the following days or weeks.

There were about 16,000 active duck shooters in the shooting states killing an average of 16.5 birds each (and wounding many more).

I am struggling to believe the numbers given what we know goes on, Victoria looks too high, while some of the other states (much of what goes on is unmonitored) look too low. It may be the case that Victoria dominates the killing of waterbirds for historical reasons as well as the Victorian Governments endless efforts to promote the killing as family fun and recreation and the numerous Ramsar sites and other wetlands captured by and for the use of duck shooters.

That said, across all its wildlife killing activities, given its denser human population and its smaller size, Victoria is an egregious stand out when it comes to the mass killing of wildlife and the number of native species it targets. It is not Victorian waterbirds the state is killing, it is Australian waterbirds.

East Australian Waterbird Survey 2023

With most species, long-term trends are a solid foundation for predicting population status rather than the year to year fluctuations. The forty-first East Australian Waterbird Survey (EAWS) published in late 2023 finds that:

  • Despite two consecutive La Nina years, three major indices for waterbirds: abundance, number of species breeding and wetland area index, continue to show long-term decline;
  • Wetland area has decreased considerably from the previous year, to well below the long-term average;
  • 40 per cent of wetlands surveyed had no waterbirds;
  • Total breeding decreased by an order of magnitude from the previous year and was below the long-term average. 97 per cent of a  very low level of breeding was in species other than ducks; and
  • While ‘game’ duck abundance increased (due to La Nina breeding event in 2022), five out of eight hunted species continue to show significant long-term declines. They are Pacific Black Duck, Australasian Shoveler, Grey Teal, Mountain Duck and Australian Wood Duck. The Mountain Duck declined in abundance from last year despite La Nina.

The Northern Territory, is a frontier region when it comes to the capacity of government to care for and monitor wildlife populations.

Protected bird species killed for recreation in the Northern Territory

  • Magpie Goose
  • Pacific Black Duck
  • Grey Teal
  • Hardhead
  • Wood Duck
  • Wandering Whistling Duck
  • Plumed Whistling Duck
  • Pink-eared Duck

Season opening dates in the Northern Territory run from 14 August (private land) 20 September (public land) closing 8 January (latest date of closure). Bag limits 7 Magpie Geese per hunter per day / 10 ducks per hunter per day.

Given the unsupervised nature of this activity and as a rough estimate say another 233,902 ducks and Magpie Geese. are killed each year.

The Northern Territory Government have now supplied the waterbird recreational shooting permit data for the period 2020 to 2022 (three seasons for ducks and Magpie Geese) which is as follows:

2020: 1,387 permits were issued (including 238 nominees) which gives a maximum of 27,625 birds per day or 2,873,000 birds for the season which was 104 days in length with a bag limit of 10 ducks and 7 geese per day.

2021: 882 permits were issued (including 136 nominees) which gives a maximum of 13,234 birds per day or 1,468,974 birds for the season which was 111 days in length with a bag limit of 10 ducks and 3 geese per day.

2022: 1,272 permits were issued (including 134 nominees) which gives a maximum of 23,902 birds per day or 2,653,122 birds for the season which was 111 days in length with a bag limit of 10 ducks and 7 geese per day.

Assuming 10 per cent of permits is actual take that gives 699,510 birds for the three seasons or an average of 233,170 per season. This number does not include birds killed by Indigenous people in the Northern Territory, commonplace in Arnhem Land and other wetlands adjoining communities.

SUMMING UP

What is shocking here is that despite dire climate events, the killing of Australian waterbirds for recreation continues at scale.

In total in 2023, it is estimated that 657,170 waterbirds were shot in Australia during recreational shooting seasons, using state and territory government issued permits. It appears that Victoria leads the pack when it comes to the mass slaughter of birdlife on its Ramsar sites and wetlands.

"The subsequent ‘harvest’ of 320,000 ducks this year (in Victoria) was hence an overshoot of 33 per cent at best, more likely 68 per cent over the threshold of the regulator's definition of "sustainable". Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting, 2023

In the South East of the continent ducks have no places of safety, they are killed in each place they seek out, often during times of severe drought.

The killing needs to stop.

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