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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Top Duck Destinations

Where America's most popular species congregate 
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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


The wigeon is an important duck for hunters in the West Coast states. In fact, midwinter counts suggest that wigeon trail only mallards and pintails for top honors in the Pacific Flyway. The majority of the continent's wigeon breed in the boreal forest of Alaska and western Canada and winter throughout California's Central Valley. Because these birds like to feed on grasses in flooded meadows and pastures, their distribution in the flyway can depend on which areas receive the most rainfall prior to and during their migration. For the last four seasons, California has led the nation in total harvest, averaging 147,745 wigeon per year—64 percent more than runner-up Texas. But as large numbers of these birds migrate south, stretches of the Lower Columbia River and the estuaries along the coasts of Oregon and southern Washington can also provide fine wigeon hunting.


Historically, great numbers of canvasbacks came to Chesapeake Bay to feed on wild celery and other aquatic plants, and local hunters reaped the bounty. Today, canvasback numbers are much more modest, but Maryland hunters enjoyed relatively good success last season, bagging around 7,500 canvasbacks, the nation's second-highest harvest. On the West Coast, the brackish estuarine marshes and open water of California's San Pablo Bay and Suisun Marsh attract many of the canvasbacks in the Pacific Flyway. This ideal habitat, combined with the Pacific Flyway's long season and a harvest of more than 11,000 birds in 2004, makes California the most productive canvasback-hunting state in the country. Another legendary spot for cans is Catahoula Lake in Louisiana. Aerial surveys of the lake taken on January 9, 2004, estimated approximately 123,000 canvasbacks—nearly a fourth of the continental population—were wintering there.

Wood Duck

The habitat wood ducks like best—scrub-shrub and forested wetlands—is most abundantly found in Mississippi Flyway states, and Minnesota and Wisconsin have averaged the largest wood duck harvests since 2001. When these northern woodies move down the major riverine systems in the flyway, their numbers often mix with those of less-migratory southern wood duck populations. States such as Arkansas and Alabama benefit from this pattern. Although Arkansas hunters have harvested almost 19,000 more wood ducks in each of the last four years, individual hunters in Alabama may have the edge. Based on state duck stamp sales during the last 10 years, there is only one duck hunter in Alabama for every four in Arkansas.

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