Many iconic North American duck species–some of our most favorite– overwinter South-of-the-Border in Mexico sunshine and wetlands, but what awaits them down there? Is unregulated hunting why we’re shooting so few pintails in the Lower 48?! Eduardo Carrera is a professional biologist and CEO of Ducks Unlimited Mexico (DUMAC). He and Ramsey have a fascinating, in-depth conversation that you definitely do not want to miss! Getting deep into the tules, Carrera covers waterfowl distribution, species, harvests and determining bag limits. A lot of time is spent talking about blue-winged and cinnamon teal, black-bellied and fulvous whistlers, Mexican Ducks and Northern Pintails before wrapping up with fact-based discussions about waterfowl harvest estimates and Mexico’s relatively generous bag limits. Tune in next week as this incredible conversation continues!
A Career in Mexican Wildlife Conservation
…I just chose biology because I knew that biology will allow me to find a job in which I would be much more dedicated to wildlife or natural resources conservation in general.
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck season somewhere, boy, have I got a good one today. Now, you all have heard me talk to my outfitters and to my clients down in Mexico, we’re kind of in a Mexico stretch of episode series right now. But today I have a very special guest, he has been a waterfowl biologist for Ducks Unlimited Mexico for 37 years. Highly intelligent, highly informed about a lot of the issues and a lot of pressing questions that you all have been asking me that I’ve been asking myself after all these years of hunting down in Mexico. Today’s guest is Eduardo Carrera. How are you, Eduardo?
Eduardo Carrera: How are you, Ramsey? Good to talk to you.
Ramsey Russell: Yes, sir. Thank you so much for being on the phone this morning and folks bear with us, there is a lot of very good information. Eduardo is presently sitting in Monterrey, Mexico, I am in Mississippi. Forgive us any audio quality issues, I promise you it is going to be worth hearing what today’s guest has to say about hunting in beautiful Mexico. Eduardo, I’ve always described hunting in Mexico as having fun or duck hunting on the fun side of the wall, so to speak, that’s real tongue and cheek for a former president we used to have. But I have been coming to Mexico and visiting and duck hunting and roaming around Mexico since the early 90s and I really love Mexico. You grew up in Mexico, is that correct? You are a Mexican national born and raised in Mexico.
Eduardo Carrera: Yes, sir. Yeah, I was born actually here in the City of Monterrey in the state of Northeast Mexico.
Ramsey Russell: Absolutely. Did you grow up duck hunting at all? How did you get into duck hunting?
Eduardo Carrera: Well, I mean, duck hunting it was not my first hunting experience, it was actually my grandfather from my mother’s side, Tomaz Gonzalez, the one that really got me into the hunting. I remember that he was living in a ranch near by the big city and he always enjoy taking me hunting every time that I had the pleasure to be visiting them. So, I started shooting with a 22 gauge, I mean water turtles and rabbits and jack rabbits and things like that that we normally use for, which was something that I really appreciate a lot for my grandfather, that was my first experience. And then as I was growing up, I started hunting deer and the turkeys and then, doves, I enjoy dove hunting a lot when we used to have a lot of white winged doves and mourning doves in the nearby area, we used to have two nesting areas for white winged doves nearby the metropolitan area Monterrey. And I used to do that and then a little bit after that I started getting engaged with waterfowl hunting and the reason why I didn’t do water hunting at the beginning, it was that the Monterrey is not a really wetland, kind of a state. So I was moving in my professional career, I had the pleasure to go to those areas where they used to be a lot of waterfowl and then I start to engage with it, actually.
Ramsey Russell: I think, a lot of us can relate to growing up hunting with a 22 rifle shooting rabbits and I know squirrels were it for me. And I actually got into duck hunting a little bit later also. Because I understand it, you’ve got an education as a biologist. Tell a little bit about your education and what led you into wildlife conservation as a career?
Eduardo Carrera: Well, I guess that was part of my growth, as I was saying, I enjoy every single time that I visited my grandpa part from my mother’s side. We used to ride horses and look at the ranch and look at – so we always look at a lot of different wildlife species around and my grandfather, he was always very protective of the species and seasons and things like that, even though that he was an old man, he always really tend to respect the nature, because he was basically leading out of around, he was cultivating some agriculture in that area. But also he didn’t wanted to develop the whole thing because he knew that, we have to leave some major natural resources on the side in order for the wildlife to be able to grow. So, I really enjoy working with animals since I was young. And then when I had to make the decision of professional career I was going to be taking, I just chose biology because I knew that biology will allow me to find a job in which I would be much more dedicated to wildlife or natural resources conservation in general.
Ramsey Russell: When you got out of school, what jobs did you do initially? I know you’ve been with Ducks Unlimited Mexico for a long time and they call it DUMAC. But how did you start your career in wildlife management?
Eduardo Carrera: Well, I was a wildlife extension specialist back in those days, that I used to work for the federal government in Mexico on the northeast part of the country as a wildlife extension specialist. And I used to go into a lot of the rural areas trying to teach the people, different ways to manage the land in order to maintain the productivity for wildlife species, always trying to preserve as much as we could natural resources. And then I worked there for – excuse me.
Ramsey Russell: I said, yeah, absolutely.
Eduardo Carrera: Yeah. And I used to work back in those days with deer, turkey, even with – because we normally used to go to rural areas and evaluate some of the wetland they used to have and the growth, the sizes of the fish that they were having for out of consumption, in order to let them know exactly the right size that they have to wait for, in order to be legally utilized for consistency, how do you call it? Consistent.
Connections: Protecting Mexican Wildlife Habitat & Commercial Hunting
And because they were pretty much tied up with wildlife because they were in some way depending upon those species as a foreign source for survive for subsistence.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. When you were working for extension, you would go off into some of these rural areas, some of these, small farms, small landowners and as you began to explain, not just producing agriculture or cattle but to set aside land and to take practices, when you were explaining to those Mexican citizens, you were working with those farmers and landowners about protecting habitat and producing more turkeys or more deer or more wildlife, I’m trying to ask two questions here, how important was it to them to manage for wildlife just to have wildlife? And how important was the aspect of commercial hunting to incentivize them? Because I’m thinking, if there must be some connection, it’s one thing just to have deer on my property for the sake of having deer, it’s something else entirely to have mule deer or turkeys or something wildlife beneficial on my property, if there are hunters willing to pay me, if I could see that resource as a commodity, like my cattle or my chickens or my corn. Was that important into getting landowners to conserve wildlife habitat?
Eduardo Carrera: Back in those days, the commercial hunting was not that really big deal. I guess that back in those days, the people, as I get that it is the common ground in all cultures, they were much more attached to the natural resources, they were kind of interacting with, they provide a lot of respect to nature more than I think than what we are, that we have right now. And because they were pretty much tied up with wildlife because they were in some way depending upon those species as a foreign source for survive for subsistence. So again, commercial hunting back in those days wasn’t really a big deal. I can tell you that, what commercial waterfowl hunting in Mexico initiated by foreign people, foreign, let’s call them outfitters even got that back in those days, they weren’t called that way, that used to visit Mexico and they realized that there was a lot of birds here and they just decided to start a business on that. I remember in the coast of Yucatan southeast of Mexico, I’m thinking that they were the first official outfitting waterfowl business established in the country. One of which was the Rancho Villarrea Lodge. So, that part in town has a long time traditional more than any other part in Mexico, traditional waterfowl hunting area history. So, actually in such a way that I know some people that were trained by the old guys that used to train the doves in Yucatan that were sent to the States or Europe as retrievers. There used to be a long tradition on training retrievers in that part of the world and a lot of those were used for waterfowl.
What is Waterfowl Habitat in Mexico Like?
Ramsey Russell: You learn something new every day. I have been to the Yucatan Peninsula to hunt ocellated turkeys and I have heard that there were rice fields and that there was waterfowl habitat and there in places there were a lot of ducks, but I have not yet been the benefit of getting to hunt that part of Mexico. So, it’s very interesting to me that was where waterfowl hunting began in Mexico, commercial waterfowl hunting was over in the Yucatan Peninsula. Is eastern Mexico still vital to waterfowl habitat in Mexico? Is it still important?
Eduardo Carrera: Oh, yeah. The most important based on the information, waterfowl distribution and species composition, it is coming out of the Mid-Winter Waterfowl Service that used to be conducted by the US Fish & Wildlife service and the Mexican authorities in the country every single year. At some point, they will move it 3 years to cover the whole country and that information, when we analyze it, allow us to determine three most important regions for waterfowl distribution in our country. The Gulf coast regions, all the way from let’s call it Bronzeville Matamoros, south to the terrains of Yucatan, the state of Yucatan actually. And then the Pacific coast from Nayarit all the way to Sinaloa and Sonora and then the Baja California coast along the Pacific coast, 4 most important base. And what we call it, the Mexican plateau, the northern highlands and then the central highlands as well, those are the 3 most important regions in Mexico for waterfowl distribution, lodging around 84% of the waterfowl wintering in the country. Around 36% wintering along the Gulf coast, around 38% along the Pacific coast and then around 10% or 11% within the northern and central highlands. And mostly those areas are characterized more oriented to provide a habitat for geese.
Blue-Winged Teal Migration Patterns
Do you know whether or not a lot of those blue wings are flying across the Gulf of Mexico?
Ramsey Russell: That’s incredible information. I was recently down in Guatemala hunting and looked at a map and you can kind of go off towards the west and go up towards the Pacific Flyway, but down in Guatemala, it was a tremendous amount of blue wings and looking at a map and thinking about it, I think, a lot of those blue wings were coming out of Yucatan. Now, we shoot blue wings over in Sinaloa and Sonora where we primarily hunt, but I’m convinced that a lot of those blue wings coming to Guatemala were trafficking through Yucatan. And would you agree with that? Do you have data to support that?
Eduardo Carrera: Oh, definitely. I mean, what you’re saying is not a surprise. If you look at the information of the band recoveries in Central and South America, you will realize that between the 1900s and 2004, a lot of that information and 30% of the blue wing teal bands reports were came from Panama, around 18% from Guatemala actually, so which match perfectly with what we are saying and 70% from Honduras and 12% from Nicaragua, we’re talking about Central America. But if you go a little bit further south in South America and the Caribbean, 33% of the band recoveries came from Colombia, 18% from Cuba, 14% from Venezuela and 9% from the Dominican Republic. And so you can really see that, and about 80% of all the band recoveries a little bit more than 80% were basically blue wing teal, blue wing teal is one of the longest North American migrant species in North America.
Ramsey Russell: That blows my mind. I’m sorry, I got to just take a minute because I knew those birds were getting after it. Eduardo, we hunt a very remote marsh in Northern Argentina and it’s not far north, it’s not up against Brazilian border, it’s considerably, but it’s a big marsh and every now and then, we will shoot blue wing teals, not a bunch but just one or two. And I talked to the operator down there one time and asked him, did he think the birds were coming, migrating from North America? And he doesn’t believe so. He believes that there’s a resident population of blue wings that at some point in time in history over flew this stopping point and took up residency in the province of Formosa. And I asked him, I said, do you ever kill rings on the feet, the bands? And he said, no, they’ve never seen a leg band on any duck in northern Argentina, let alone blue wings. But it’s fascinating to me that these little birds that come out of the Dakotas and Prairie Canada annually are going clear down to Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama and a lot of those birds are probably coming through Yucatan Peninsula, not down the Pacific Flyway where we hunt them, but they’re coming right down the middle. Do you know whether or not a lot of those blue wings are flying across the Gulf of Mexico? Because I know some of them will, but I’ve always understood a lot of them are getting down into the Gulf coast estuaries in the United States and veering west and kind of coming through Texas. And so now I’m wondering based on banding recoveries or any kind of geo data that Ducks Unlimited might have, if those birds are kind of hugging around the coast to go to Yucatan and fan out. I’m just curious if you have any thoughts on how those blue wings are getting into Yucatan and then down into Central America. Are they coming straight across the Gulf or are they utilizing those habitats kind of going west and staying to the shoreline?
Eduardo Carrera: Well, you have both possibilities. You have birds that had been trapped and banded in Central Canada and the band that had been recovered, for example, in Venezuela around 3,750 miles south, you have other blue wing teals banded in similar areas within Central Canada that have been reported in Peru, a little bit or 4000 miles in the South American continent. A lot of the species are basically following a specific path along the Gulf coast, but they just stop over on some areas recharge their energy and then they keep flying south. But there’s a lot of bunch of birds that are flying, let’s say going out of the Mississippi Delta all the way to Cuba and then Cuba to Venezuela to Ecuador to any of those South America countries and even to Central American countries. I mean, there’s a lot of stories from fisherman along the Gulf coast, seeing bunch of birds sitting on the ocean floating, resting and after a couple of hours at once, take off and keep flying south, most of those are blue wing teals. I have never been able to see that, I can recognize you that. I can recognize you that I have never seen it myself, but there’s no way that they can lie on that because they don’t know exactly, I mean, they don’t have any particular interest on that, if you know what I mean?
Ramsey Russell: Right. I’ve always said that my favorite duck species was the next one that came into the decoy, but really and truly, I have got this thing about blue wing teal, I love them. And it occurred to me down in Guatemala, I shoot those birds in September, either if I’m in Canada, up in the Dakotas, if I’m down in the Deep South during the teal season and then I find myself hunting them just about every month somewhere, I find myself encountering blue wing teal all the way into late March when I’m down in Guatemala. 7 months I hunt these birds. And I actually was in a conversation with a biologist from SUNY New York from New York University the other day and he was saying, he shared with us a prevailing thought that with respect to blue wings, hunting really cannot impact their populations. And when you look at this species of bird that starts way up in the Dakotas in Canada and goes all the way down to Cuba, first he’s out in the Gulf and he’s in Venezuela, then he’s over in Cuba, boy, is he got a passport stamp a mile long. But they’re so moving and so dynamic, you’re really not going to get into them and stick them to where you can hurt them because they’re constantly on the move for 7 or 8 months of their lives, that’s incredible, that’s the most amazing waterfowl migration story I’ve ever heard is how you just laid out where these little blue wings are going and how they’re spending their year, it’s amazing to me.
The Thrill of Hunting Blue-winged Beauties
I’ve always said that my favorite duck species was the next one that came into the decoy, but really and truly, I have got this thing about blue wing teal, I love them.
Eduardo Carrera: Yeah. We have always said in Ducks Unlimited, based upon the analysis of all the information that we have that about 83%, 84% of the North American blue wing teal population winters along the Gulf coast and a lot of that waterfowl, a lot of that ducks fly into Central and South America and then it is very easy to see them flying back sometimes late in March or even on April back to the nesting area. Because you would expect that any other North American bird, they will start flying back into the nesting areas for January, February, but these ones are late migrants to the nesting areas. It’s a long distance flying from one place to the other, they just wait until everything is just calm and treated so they can fly directly back into those areas.
Ramsey Russell: Wow, that is so amazing. And it really speaks a lot about – blue wing teal have a fairly specific habitat type and it speaks a lot about Latin America’s habitat types that it attracts and overwinters so many blue winged teal, would you agree? I mean, it must be just the perfect blue wing teal paradise for so many blue wings to overwinter down in Latin America, Mexico, and Guatemala, Honduras.
Eduardo Carrera: Yeah, definitely. And actually, as you were saying, in terms of hunting pressure for blue winged teal, if the hunting pressure in Mexico is not that high as some people might think, hunting pressure in central is practically nothing. So in terms of the blue wing teal growing population, all the birds migrating south, they are going to be safe and they are going to be hoping that they can find a suitable habitat so they can just rest, care and then fly back to have us a nesting success.
The World’s Most Vibrant Populations of Whistling Ducks
So, what’s going on with whistling ducks in Mexico?
Ramsey Russell: Well, let’s talk a little bit about – I want to talk about whistling ducks because we do have vibrant populations, especially of black bellied whistling ducks along the gulf coastal areas, we do have some fulvous whistler ducks here in the United States and since about 2005, it seems like to me, the black bellied whistling duck has greatly expanded their breeding range. I mean, I’ve heard of them, Delaware, Ohio, New York, especially here in the Deep South, they’re really starting to expand their breeding range. But around September, a lot of those birds begin to move out. Now, when I’m down in western Mexico hunting, ducks in Sonola and Sonora, we see black bellied whistling ducks. But my partners down there explained to me that those are resident birds. So, what’s going on with whistling ducks in Mexico?
Eduardo Carrera: Well, I mean, we have 6 resident waterfowl species in Mexico. Two of which are the black bellied and the fulvous whistling ducks. The whistling ducks normally nests on tree cavities and eventually can nest on the ground. But the fulvous whistling ducks is basically, a ground nesters species. You can see the difference between the distribution of one or the other because black bellied tree ducks can distribute normally along the Gulf coast and along the Pacific coast. But also in some of the interior wetland complexes in Mexico. But the black-bellied whistling tree ducks is much more related to fresh water resources. So, if you have been along the Pacific coast, you will see much more black-bellied whistling tree ducks than the fulvous, black wing tree duck, that’s some people call it pichichín in Mexico.
Ramsey Russell: I can count on two fingers the number of fulvous whistling ducks I’ve seen in western Mexico. Every now and again down around Sonora, there will be a freshwater pond that will have a handful of fulvous whistling ducks and I’ve seen two. Where primarily are – like, if you put me on a map, where primarily are the fulvous whistling ducks, the migratory fulvous whistlers overwintering and the native are indigenous, fulvous whistlers. Where are they located in Mexico?
Eduardo Carrera: Yeah. In the central part of Mexico and then all the fresh water reservoirs, wetlands adjacent to the coastal ecosystems along the gulf coast, they are basically distributing in that particular area. The black-bellied whistling tree ducks is much more oriented to distribute along the Pacific. And one of the things that you were mentioning earlier about the black-bellied whistling duck moving north, that is a fact, that fact is related to that the species is taking advantage of all the rice field, a crop area that you have in Texas and Louisiana and all that. So, they are basically trying to take advantage of that and they are staying there for the year around basically. And they have become a kind of a species that is such a way that they have been considered already as part of the hunting back in some of those estates.
Ramsey Russell: Right. A lot of our listeners are trying to collect the North American Waterfowl Slam and to me personally, the fulvous whistling duck represents the hardest of those species to bag. Because in the United States, there are part very specific parts of Florida that you might, can shoot one. And Mexico, that I’m aware is a very difficult area, at least the parts that we hunt is a very hard area to go to, to try to bag one because the parts of Mexico that we hunt don’t have many fulvous whistlers and I’ve always wondered where those birds are going. In the instance of fulvous whistlers, they live on 4 continents, South America, Africa, North America and one more I can’t think of. But they’re very widespread but they apparently have a very specific habitat type. Like in Argentina where I see more fulvous whistlers that I would have thought to exist in the world, they’re in freshwater bodies on a big marsh that’s rank with a lot of submerged aquatics and it’s like, it’s not quite thick enough, they can walk on it like a coot but it’s there and that’s where you find them and I mean, you find them in great supplies. So, I’m thinking if there are a lot of fulvous whistlers in parts of central Mexico, it must be that kind of habitat.
Eduardo Carrera: Oh yeah, definitely. There’s a lot of American vegetation, there’s a lot of submerged vegetation as well in those freshwater wetlands, similar to what you are describing in Argentina. Been in Argentina but never been hunting in Argentina, yet.
Ramsey Russell: Yet is a big word, I get that. But I hear people talk about this fulvous whistler and I’m running down a rabbit hole right now but there was a time down in coastal Texas and Louisiana that fulvous whistler seemed to be in more greater abundance and parts of Southwest Louisiana, Southeast Texas, they’ve converted over, there used to be a lot of rice, a lot more rice in those regions 20 to 40 years ago than they are now. And I just wondered to myself if the abundance of fulvous whistler in the United States wasn’t a periodic anomaly that because of those rice fields that are surrogates for marsh, it created abundance of fulvous whistlers in the United States that because of land use changes, those birds are just no longer as abundant. It’s just something I’m thinking of here and I’m having someone of your caliber on the podcast, I just wanted to see – I’m just trying to really nail down North American fulvous whistlers because they’re not in the United States hardly. And I know there are a lot of people listening and saying, oh, well, I’ve shot mine, well, man, I’ve been hunting a lot and I hadn’t seen one to shoot at during the legal duck season in America, so I’m just wondering. So, you’re saying there are vibrant populations of them in central Mexico?
Eduardo Carrera: Yeah. But again, I mean, when you compare both species population numbers, the most representative species is going to be the black-bellied whistling tree duck than the fulvous whistling tree duck. And probably as you just say, the land change for agriculture and all that has basically wiped out a lot of the natural ground habitat that used to be utilized by this fulvous whistling ducks. So that’s probably one of the reasons why we have not seen as many birds as we used to see. But as I remember I have always seen more black-bellied than whistling ducks anywhere in Mexico, anywhere. They tend to adapt more faster to the environment, especially in the element of rice field areas, they just have to sit, feed and reproduce, which is not the quality of the fulvous because they don’t primarily feed on rice. If you put a rice field area and you have black bellies, they will primarily be feeding on rice, that’s what we always make the fun of comparing a good detail, a good black-bellied duck grill who has basically feeding on rice and I can guarantee you that the black-bellied tasted better than the pichichín just because it was primarily feeding on rice. So they are feeding on rice primarily and we see a lot of that in the state. When we had a lot of rice field areas in the past, we don’t have that anymore. We just have an explosion of black bellies within the area and it was rarely to see the fulvous around. You could see patches of small numbers here and there, but the one that basically prevail it was the black-bellied just because it was basically feeding on rice.
Ramsey Russell: For those of you all listening, we do send a lot of clients to Mexico that are targeting black bellied whistling ducks, but something interesting happened a few years ago. I don’t know exactly the agency, it’s not Mexico, it’s not America peruse, it’s not our governments. But there is a governing board that regulates something called CITES convention for endangered and threatened species and because the black bellied and whistling ducks are recognized as in danger down in Honduras and Guatemala and parts of Central America and me personally, I think, it’s on the fringes of their distribution range, so there’s not abundant. Eduardo, we can no longer import black bellied whistling ducks into the United States from Mexico without a CITES permit issued from that company and that’s become very cumbersome. It’s like, I talked to a US Fish & Wildlife service agent one time and I’m like, well, I’ve got a receipt from a Mexico hunt, I’ve got a Mexico license, I’ve got a Mexico airline ticket, I mean, it came from Mexico, but black bellied whistling ducks or fulvous whistling ducks in Mexico, their populations are healthy and vibrant, is that correct?
Eduardo Carrera: Yeah. That’s correct, as far as I can tell you, yeah, that’s the truth.
Mexico’s Thriving Mexican Mallard Population
Mallard’s populations are going through the roof, that there are probably more Mexican ducks AKA Mexican mallards right now than there have ever been in the history of time.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, they do well. We had a waterfowl geneticist, Phil Lavretsky on here, about a year and a half ago and he does a lot of genetic studies on mallard like species and we started talking about the Mexican duck. And they are indigenous to the Sonora Desert on both sides of the other border. But he began to describe that, they’ve always been in Mexico, they’ve always been in the Sonora Desert and other places and I’ve seen them up in the mountains around the Rango. But the Sonora Desert was really kind of their home and how as agriculture began to boom in the 60s and 70s, especially in the 50s and 40s, but especially back in the 60s when wheat came to the Yankee Valley and all the water that’s required to irrigate the Sonora Desert for those crops, he just explained that their population went through the roof. And I met just kind of off the record, I was bass fishing with a Sonoran biologist recently that explained that their populations are going through the roof, that there are probably more Mexican ducks AKA Mexican mallards right now than there have ever been in the history of time. Have your observations seen that?
Eduardo Carrera: Yeah. The Mexican duck, it’s a duck that is more -and in Mexico it’s much more oriented to distribute within the northern and central Mexicans plateau. It was basically a freshwater specie that stays there year round without moving anywhere. Now, the situation with the changes in the weather and the state of Chihuahuan and I don’t know if you are familiar with that, but Chihuahuan went through a very drought season of 5 to 6 years in a row, it got a little bit over 7 years in some places. So there were kids within their own first year of growth, they never saw water falling from the sky because there was no raining within that particular period of time and when they saw that, it was interesting because there was a study there that when the kids start looking at the water falling from the sky, they just got scared because they were not used to it. So that hot was that drought in that period. And because of that, all the traditional historical freshwater on the northern highlands, they were totally dry. So, the Mexican duck has to find a way to make a living and they started moving towards the mountain, the Sierra Madre west in Mexico and they basically reach an area with extensive amount of water irrigation channels and all that provided the humidity that they needed for the egg to lie. So, they just got established there and since then, since that period of time, the Mexican duck right now is not exclusive for the plateau because right now, as you say, it is growing dramatically fast, it happened really fast to all the agriculture development along the coastal plain of Sonora and Sinaloa as well. And basically take advantage of all the water availability there and they are just staying on the coastal marshes and irrigation canals and things like that in those places. But that’s the kind of short history of how the Mexican duck moved from the plateaus to the Pacific coast based upon the changes in precipitation along the state of Chihuahuan.
Why Do Cinnamon Teal Love Mexico?
Is it the habitat or what?
Ramsey Russell: Interesting. A couple of more species I want to ask you about while we’re running down this usual suspects list of Mexico. The number one species in the world that makes my phone ring is the cinnamon teal. And I know that a lot – I’ve heard estimates that upwards of 70% to 80% of cinnamon teal produced or coming from the Utah up in the Great Salt Lake freshwater basin, some of those marshes around that area. I know that the old Sac Valley remnant marshes within Sac Valley produce cinnamon teal. But when asked – and I know you can shoot them in California and parts of Nevada and sometimes you luck into shooting the cinnamon teal down in Texas, it happens, but it’s hard to target those birds in a lot of those areas to really go out and target those species is very tough. But to me, if you want to shoot a cinnamon teal Mexico is the place to go, especially western Mexico. Why is that? Why is it that so many cinnamon teal spend so much time down in Mexico? Is it the habitat or what? Do you know?
Eduardo Carrera: Well, if you look at the 3 teals you can actually see a very distribution pattern for each of the species within Mexico. The blue winged teal basically distributes along the gulf coast and a little bit on the interior wetlands in Mexico, the green wing teal basically does the same, but along the Pacific coast, they don’t just go all the way to the gulf coast and they stayed a little bit of mix with the other two species within the Mexican plateau. But the cinnamon teal, you can find it in all the 3 regions, the Pacific coast, the central highlands and then the Gulf coast areas. It is interesting to see how this species is basically trying to adapt to any type of environment within Mexico in order to spend the winter. There’s a lot of habitat types within the coastal plain along the Sonora area, as the upper Pacific Coast, as there’s a lot of different wetlands type along the coastal plain of the Gulf coast of Mexico that they’re basically finding all the requirements that they need in order to spend the winter time in Mexico. So, habit that has a lot to do with that in all the species of vegetation and seeds and vertebrate that we still have a lot in our wetlands that are primarily food for this species.
Ramsey Russell: They really do. To hear you say that I can really see it. I can think to the places I’ve shot cinnamon teals in Mexico. And even, say we go out to Sonora and we’re hunting the brackish bays, the estuaries and freshwater ponds, you’re very rarely going to find those birds out on the bays, where I send it to associate and it goes back to their genus and their life habits, I tend to think of cinnamon teal as being in, fresh water, a lot of vegetation and mucky mud bottoms. It’s something about that been thick habitat, like a Shoveler. They really are like certain habitats where we’re going to find cinnamon teal. But I’ve never seen, anywhere I hunt in Mexico, especially out west, we see cinnamon teal daily and I can’t think of anywhere else in the world that I hunt except Peru that we see cinnamon teal in that number, at all is Mexico. It seems to be, they’re born maybe in the Great Salt Lake region, but man, they’re dying to get down to Mexico, there’s something about the habitat there.
Eduardo Carrera: Yeah. It is the case for blue winged teal when I told you that it is estimated that 84% of the North American population winters in Mexico and central and South America, it is going to be the same case for the cinnamon teal. The highest percentage of the North American cinnamon teal winters in Mexico specifically because they don’t fly as south as the blue wing teal.
Ramsey Russell: No, they don’t.
Eduardo Carrera: They basically stay there.
Recreational Duck Hunters in Mexico
So, anyways, waterfowl hunting in Mexico is not our traditional hunting and I can tell you that 80% of the waterfowls taken in Mexico are basically done by foreign hunters.
Ramsey Russell: You’re a Mexican national, you do duck hunt in Mexico and I know there are not a lot of duck hunters in Mexico but how many Mexican duck hunters would you say there are? How many Mexican citizens actually duck hunt recreationally like we do here in America?
Eduardo Carrera: That is an interesting question. Now, when it comes to hunting in Mexico in general, most of the national hunters are for big game and small mammals. Now, when it comes to federal hunting, most of the national hunters in Mexico look for duck or quail or in a specific places in Central Mexico snipe, people love snipe shooting. They call it our royal hunting, that’s what they call it. So, anyways, waterfowl hunting in Mexico is not our traditional hunting and I can tell you that 80% of the waterfowls taken in Mexico are basically done by foreign hunters. Most of them from California and Texas based upon the study that I told you earlier, that I did years ago about waterfowl hunting pressure and we determine that 80% of the hunters came from US and then a small portion from Europe and then the rest was going to be from Mexico, but specifically on the specific regions in Mexico. You have much more waterfowl hunters in the city of Mexico hunting in Ciénegas del Lerma the wetlands nearby Mexico City or there’s a growing traditional for waterfowl hunting in the state of Yucatan. I told you that one of the oldest, if not the oldest waterfowl outfitting business in Mexico was located in Yucatan, hunting Rancho Villarrea Lodge. So that created a lot of tradition on the locals to start getting attracted to waterfowl hunting in such a way that the two most important areas in which you can find waterfowl hunters in Mexico are located in Central Mexico and the state of Yucatan.
Favorite Duck Species to Hunt in Mexico
In central Mexico, I can tell you that a lot of the hunters that I know they really like the pintail, they really love it.
Ramsey Russell: Do those duck hunters in Mexico, do they have a favorite duck species? Like, for example, here is what I’m saying, there’s 58 subspecies of waterfowl in North America, but of that, if you talk to an American duck hunter, especially in the Atlantic, Mississippi and central flyways and some into the Pacific flyway, I would say that the mallard duck is the most iconic and favored species of the American duck hunter. You get off from the Pacific flyway, pintails, they are the bread butter duck of the California. But do Mexican hunters have a favorite species?
Eduardo Carrera: Not that I’m aware of. When you talk to them – well, those in Yucatan, they don’t have any particular choice because in Yucatan, 99% of the bag limit is going to be blue wing teal. Eventually you can hunt a redhead or wigeon or lesser scaup, actually let me tell you that the blue wing teal in Yucatan is called Cerceta Aliazul. If you go there and ask for blue winged teal ask for Cerceta Aliazul and they’ll know exactly what are you talking about. So, there’s no option there. In central Mexico, I can tell you that a lot of the hunters that I know they really like the pintail, they really love it.
Duck Harvest in Mexico vs. United States
We estimated a little bit over 100,000 birds hunted during the whole season, which is what it is being hunted in California in one day.
Ramsey Russell: And that’s kind of why I was fishing around to see about the species. But now, I’m going to enter into a topic, this will be the last species we talk about in Mexico with a pintail duck. The limit in the lower 48 of America, in Alaska I can shoot 8 to 10, in Canada, we can shoot 8, in Mexico more, in the United States, the limit is one. And because of the way that the UMAs and hunting licenses and everything kind of worked together in Mexico, it’s possible in Mexico to shoot more than one, more than 3 pintails legally in Mexico, it’s possible. And if I’m really having a great day and I want to get my teeth kicked in or get kicked in the cojones and social media, all I need to do is hold up 10 drake pintails from down in Mexico and there have been threads in social media that Ramsey Russell, getducks.com and Mexico is leading to the extinction of our beloved pintail. And that’s just not the truth, there are bag limits, there are reasons why the bag limits are set out differently in different parts of the world. And I say for example, in the Atlantic Flyway the limit of mallards is 2, in the Mississippi Flyway the limit of mallard is 4, in the Central Flyway the limit of mallard is 5, in the Pacific Flyway the limit of mallard is 7 and that’s got to do with hunter harvest distribution. You had done some studies you alluded to about the duck harvest in Mexico versus somewhere in the United States and using pintails for an example, I would argue and I don’t have the numbers like you might, but I would argue that more pintails are killed on opening day in California, maybe even in the Sac Valley of California with the limit of one that are killed in Mexico during the entire year. What would you say about something like that?
Eduardo Carrera: Well, I would totally agree with that. And when we did this waterfowl harvest survey, we estimated even including some expansion factors in order to add the birds that we couldn’t count because they were not part of the legal hunting. We estimated a little bit over 100,000 birds hunted during the whole season, which is what it is being hunted in California in one day.
Ramsey Russell: Not just pintails but total waterfowl take.
Eduardo Carrera: Not only pintail, no, the total number. But when you look at the rank of the most common species harvested within that period, green winged teal was the number 1, pintails appear to be the number 5. And incredibly, the number 7 species are the black-bellied and the fulvous whistling ducks together. So, of the total hunting pressure in Mexico, we are including two resident species within the overall bag limit for the country. Now, it’s important to say that hunting harvest is basically based upon population numbers and hunting pressure. How many hunters do you have? How many species do you have? How many birds that each hunter can hunt? I mean you cannot do it the other way around. So, because we don’t have that many hunters in Mexico and we have a really good amount of the North American waterfowl population in Mexico, it is being allowed to hunt a little bit more that will never have the impact of what is being harvested somewhere else in terms of species. I’m talking about legal hunting that I know, there’s a lot of illegal hunting that we are not really considering because that is something extra to talk about. And I know about the rules and the seasons because we as an organization are every single year requested by the federal government to provide our documentary in which we can provide a justification to determining the harvest that can take place in Mexico. They are the ones to enforce it, we don’t, we just provide all the technical information to justify the hunting season, how many birds can hunt at every single region and which species are part of the liberal hunting and which other species will be part of the hunting.
Ramsey Russell: But the way the Mexican laws work, as I understand it is, a biologist goes into a geographical area that is assigned in UMA and prescribes and I’m just making this number up, hypothetically 6000 ducks can be taken within here. So figuratively speaking, I mean, realistically, if I personally owned an UMA that had 6000, I could go in and buy as many licenses as I personally wanted and shoot 6000 pintails myself, as long as I had the licenses married up in my name and that’s the way a lot of these, outfits or operators are meeting out more generous limits, say of 10 or 15 pintails is because knowing they’ve got this UMA and most outfitters have got many UMAs they can go in and buy as many hunting licenses as necessary to account for those particular species. That’s much different than we do here in the United States.
Eduardo Carrera: Yeah. And it is different and I think that, it is not the perfect system, I recognize that. I’m not particularly in favor of the system that we have and I have to say that, I have to be honest with that. And I’m not in favor of it because there’s no way that you can determine a waterfowl population within the same period in which the species is going to be hunted, right? You can say that you can have 5000 birds in that particular wetland by now, but there’s no guarantee that you can have that same amount or less than or more than that amount tomorrow or in a few days. Everything depends totally on the environmental conditions that are prevailing everywhere, so the birds are basically taking advantage of that. So like the example of the recent drought that California went through. Last year, we determine that there was some movement of the species somewhere and we need to record that situation because the bird that used to be in California, we’re not going to have habitat available, so bird will have to move somewhere else. So, we did some aerial surveys on the northern highlands and then along the Pacific coast and we determine many more birds of what we used to have on previous years just because the birds were moving south. A lot of those birds that were not staying in California, they were moving south in response to the bad environmental conditions in California. But the good environmental conditions that we had in Northwest Mexico because it was an extraordinary, wet year for that particular region. So they were just taking advantage of environmental conditions and prevail in one place or the other. That is the kind of a response that we are having. North American waterfowl population we need to manage it as one population. So that’s why we have always justified the hunting season based upon the historical trends of waterfowl distribution in Mexico compared to what it is the total North American waterfowl population. And we have always said based upon the mid-winter waterfowls surveys conducted by the US Fish & Wildlife service and that is something that we are continuing right now with Mexican professionals in Mexico that we launch in Mexico depending on environmental conditions that we have here or everywhere between the 17% to 20% of that North American waterfowl population. So based on that and the use of the survey that we are conducting every single year, aerial and ground surveys, we determine waterfowl distribution, species composition and the trends for each of the areas, so we can determine which species are more prevalent in each of the regions, so we can start delineating the hunting strategy that it will be allowed for these particular areas in advance to the hunting activity. That is one of the situations that we are not really in fully agreement with the way that this system in Mexico is kind of trying to predict the waterfowl harvest by doing local surveys that are not really good indicator of how many birds you’re going to have now, that would be the same tomorrow or in a week. They are not guaranteeing you can do that basically because what we just said, if the habitat reduces or improving all the reason the birds are going to be moving for that particular area just to take advantage of that in order to maintain good physical conditions and to be successful during the next reproduction period. But anyways, that justification is there and the rules are established and the limitation on certain species is being established there. So, the UMA owner and these guys is a unit for management and administration of wildlife. They are co-responsible of letting the hunters know that bag limits and restrictions that they have over the species that these hunters are going to be hunting at, letting them know the limit that they are allowed to hunt their license with the option that if a hunter is going to be there for 6 days, for example and he completed his bag limit of the tag that he has to possess or having in his possession every single time.
Ramsey Russell: Absolutely. But it’s important to me that was the whole purpose of this conversation, is there seems to be a misunderstanding or a misconception among, a lot of US hunters that there are no bag limits. And as somebody that has spent so much time down in Mexico, I know that there are rule benders, but the outfitters that we work with are absolutely committed to the same thing we are. They want an abundance of ducks, they abide by bag limits because they want an abundance of ducks and an opportunity for their hunters to enjoy duck hunting. And I insist on it, I’ll be honest with you, Eduardo, I insist that our outfitters operate because these are not some foreign bird, these are my birds, these are my redheads, these are my scaup, these are my pintail. I take ownership as an American hunter and a Ducks Unlimited member and everything else that I can, I take ownership in this resource and I’m really glad to hear, you explain the management interest and the population management interest and why these birds are harvested more liberally than here in the United States. But there are bag limits and there is a concerted effort to conserve waterfowl in Mexico.
Eduardo Carrera: Oh yeah, definitely. There’s a big interest. And actually, there’s a lot of professional and organizations working for the conservation of the habitat that this bird used during the winter.
Ramsey Russell: Hold that thought because we’ve run out of time for this episode. Folks, you all been listening to Eduardo Carrera, DUMAC, Mexico, which is Ducks Unlimited Mexico and come back next week because we didn’t even scratch the surface, we didn’t even get into all the great stuff that we started off talking. We ran down a species list and we talked about hunting and bag limits. Thank you all for listening to this episode of Ducks Season Somewhere, come back next time to hear part II. See you next time.