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Top Duck Destinations

Where America's most popular species congregate 
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  • photo by Tom Martineau
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Story at a Glance

Species covered in this article include:

  • Mallard
  • Black Duck
  • Gadwall
  • Pintail
  • Teal
  • Wigeon
  • Canvasback
  • Wood Duck
  • Redhead
  • Scaup
  • Ring-necked Duck


Pacific Flyway In southeast Washington, Moses Lake and neighboring Potholes Reservoir offer migrating ducks an expanse of marsh and open water amid a landscape of mountains and prairie. These two bodies of water are also surrounded by the state's major corn-producing area. This combination draws a winter mallard population estimated at 60,000 birds last year, according to state waterfowl biologist Ron Friesz, who says the mallard flight peaks in mid- to late November. Besides those with boats who hunt the marshes on the big lakes, there are what Friesz admiringly calls "backpack" hunters who sling their guns and decoy sacks over their shoulders and seek ducks on the smaller creeks and potholes west of the lakes.

Farther down the flyway, northern California's Sacramento Valley attracts large numbers of mallards. Stretching 100 miles north and south along the Sacramento River, this region is the country's second-largest rice-producing area behind eastern Arkansas. So it is no surprise that mallards flock here every winter. In early January of this year, biologists counted more than 160,000 mallards on six refuges that make up the Sacramento NWR complex. Yet, senior state waterfowl biologist Dan Yparraguirre says that duck concentrations in the valley have become more spread out in the last decade. He explains, "An increased number of farmers have been flooding their fields after the rice harvest to help decompose rice straw, giving ducks more options of where to go."

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