By Dale Humburg, DU Chief Scientist
The duck season is open in all but a couple of states and zones over the Thanksgiving weekend. With the exception of opening day, that makes late November the most popular waterfowl time of the fall. Many of us choose to add a day or so before the weekend for an extended waterfowl hunt. And most students have an extra day or two away from school as well, making this a prime time for renewing hunting traditions with family and friends. It may not be the best time of the season from a duck harvest perspective; however, it often coincides with changes in the weather, habitat, and bird migrations.
In northern states, decoys are likely to freeze in the ice, and waterfowlers are looking to big water or rivers for late season opportunities. Mid-latitude states are likely right on the edge of recent or pending migrations – sometimes the last of the year. Southern states might still be in a “wait and see” mode with early migrants already on site and only initial mallards and diving ducks setting up winter residence.
Biologically, it's a really dynamic time of the year. Birds are trying to maintain body condition, refueling their depleted reserves en route to the wintering grounds. Completing molt and acquiring breeding plumage adds to nutritional demands. And courtship and pairing are already beginning for many species. Habitat for ducks and habitat for duck hunters serve multiple roles this time of year.
It is a bit strange to see considerably more traffic early Friday morning on the way to the duck marsh. Most vehicles are not towing a duck boat, but are on their way to Black Friday sales instead.
Certainly, recent frigid temperatures and several inches of snow in the prairies, hurricanes in the east, and continued dry weather in many parts of the country have presented a lot of uncertainty about expectations for the Thanksgiving weekend.
For me, however, I'm certainly thankful that I'll be duck hunting with my grandson and not shopping!
Find hunting and migration reports in your area on the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map.
Dale Humburg has served as Ducks Unlimited Chief Scientist since 2007 and has been involved in waterfowl and wetlands research and management for more than 40 years. He began his waterfowl education with his dad in a duck boat in the mid-1950s, and this has continued ever since. His experience in wetland and waterfowl research has involved semi-permanent marsh management, invertebrate dynamics, willow wetlands, Canada goose wintering ecology, evaluation of waterfowl hunting programs, surveys of waterfowl hunters, and floodplain wetland restoration. Humburg is passionate about passing on the waterfowling traditions that he learned from his father to his grandchildren.