Story at a Glance
Species covered in this article include:
- Black Duck
- Wood Duck
- Ring-necked Duck
Although the pintail is one of the most widely distributed North American ducks, about half the population migrates to California each fall. On December 2, 2004, more than 399,000 pintails were counted in just the 733-acre Butte Sink NWR. In fact, this duck is the second most numerous in the Pacific Flyway behind the mallard. Depending on water levels and habitat conditions, pintails gravitate to the various freshwater and brackish marshes, flooded agricultural fields, and ponds of the Sacramento Valley, Suisun Marsh, San Joaquin Delta, and San Joaquin Valley. Like all hunters in America, those in California and elsewhere in the Pacific Flyway are limited to taking one pintail per day. However, they do currently have the longest (up to 105 days in 2005-06) and most productive (nearly 100,000 sprig taken last year) season in the country. Farther east, the Texas Gulf Coast winters a significant proportion of the continental pintail population, according to DU Director of Conservation Programs Ed Ritter, with the greatest concentration of the birds found in the rice prairie region southwest of Houston.
Like pintails, blue-winged teal love the proximity of freshwater marsh and rice fields found in south Texas and especially in southern Louisiana. HIP estimates for the past four seasons indicate that Louisiana had the nation's highest average harvest of blue-winged teal, with more than 230,000 of the birds taken annually. "In addition to gadwalls, blue-winged teal are the staple for Louisiana duck hunters in the early part of the season," says biologist and DU Regional Director George Horton. While the majority of these birds are bagged in November, Louisiana does have an early teal season—usually in late September—to capitalize on the bluewing's tendency to migrate early.
Green-winged teal differ from their blue-winged relatives in that their migration is generally later in the season and most of the birds winter in the United States. More greenwings are harvested in California than in any other state. Last season, California's total harvest of 348,748 ducks was greater than the totals for the next two states combined. In California's Central Valley, these little birds typically are more widely distributed than mallards and pintails. Biologist Dan Yparraguirre says, "Greenwings are important for hunters in the grasslands of Merced County and even farther down the valley." Back east, the rice fields of eastern Arkansas and south-central Louisiana are also productive regions.