Context. North American waterfowl managers have long suspected that waterfowl harvest estimates derived from national harvest surveys in the USA are biased high. Survey bias can be evaluated by comparing survey results with like estimates from independent sources.
Aims. We used band-recovery data to assess the magnitude of apparent bias in duck and goose harvest estimates, using mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) and Canada geese (Branta canadensis) as representatives of ducks and geese, respectively.
Methods. We compared the number of reported mallard and Canada goose band recoveries, adjusted for band reporting rates, with the estimated harvests of banded mallards and Canada geese from the national harvest surveys. We used the results of those comparisons to develop correction factors that can be applied to annual duck and goose harvest estimates of the national harvest survey.
Key results. National harvest survey estimates of banded mallards harvested annually averaged 1.37 times greater than those calculated from band-recovery data, whereas Canada goose harvest estimates averaged 1.50 or 1.63 times greater than comparable band-recovery estimates, depending on the harvest survey methodology used.
Conclusions. Duck harvest estimates produced by the national harvest survey from 1971 to 2010 should be reduced by a factor of 0.73 (95% CI = 0.71–0.75) to correct for apparent bias. Survey-specific correction factors of 0.67 (95% CI = 0.65–0.69) and 0.61 (95% CI = 0.59–0.64) should be applied to the goose harvest estimates for 1971–2001 (duck stamp-based survey) and 1999–2010 (HIP-based survey), respectively.
Implications. Although this apparent bias likely has not influenced waterfowl harvest management policy in the USA, it does have negative impacts on some applications of harvest estimates, such as indirect estimation of population size. For those types of analyses, we recommend applying the appropriate correction factor to harvest estimates.