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Migration Alert: Severe drought is a challenge for Colorado waterfowlers

Oct. 11 – Central Flyway - Colorado
  • photo by Michaelfurtman.com
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By Jeff Kurrus

Colorado waterfowl hunters are facing tough conditions this season due to low water levels. With more ducks and geese moving south with each cold front, some migrants may pass by traditional areas that are currently dry.

"If you can find water, you can find birds," says Greg Kernohan, DU’s manager of conservation programs in Colorado. "We’ve had a historically dry year with little precipitation or runoff from the mountains, and many of our state wildlife areas are completely dry."

Fortunately, irrigation companies near Fort Collins are beginning to pump water into local reservoirs including Jackson Lake, Riverside, North Sterling, and Prewitt, giving migrating ducks and geese a reason to stay in the area. "We are starting to see some birds on these reservoirs," Kernohan says, "and hunting has been good for some people."

With current temperatures in the 60s and 70s and no significant precipitation in the forecast, these reservoirs will likely hold the largest concentrations of waterfowl in the region this fall.  Another option is the South Platte River. This shallow, meandering river provides vital habitat for waterfowl, and DU projects along the Platte will be especially important to waterfowl this year. "Restored wetlands along the river will be oases for migrating and wintering birds," Kernohan says.               

While dry years are challenging for waterfowl hunters, drought is not necessarily a bad thing for wetlands. "Periodic drought allows wetland basins to dry out, which helps maintain their productivity and gives wetland managers the opportunity to perform important maintenance work," Kernohan says. "In the meantime, we can always hope for more precipitation."

Until then, Colorado waterfowl hunters should do everything they can to find water.

Jeff Kurrus is a writer/photographer whose work has appeared in In-Fisherman, Field & Stream, Buckmasters, Ducks Unlimited, and others. He is currently a staffer for Nebraskaland Magazine.

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