By Chris Jennings
Frigid temperatures have descended on Prairie Canada and the northern Great Plains states. The latest cold blast will freeze many smaller bodies of water, and it’s only a matter of time before the larger marshes and lakes follow suit. Reports from across the region tell the same story—most of the ducks and geese that remained in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta are now headed south.
“From Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, to Aberdeen, South Dakota, the forecast for the next couple weeks shows many days with highs below freezing and lows in single digits or the teens,” reports DU Chief Scientist Dr. Tom Moorman. “For waterfowl, that is the signal to move south as wetlands freeze and food becomes less available.”
In Manitoba, Dr. Scott Stephens, DU Canada’s director of operations in the Prairie Region, explains that this latest blast of cold air will likely push remaining waterfowl out of the province.
“Around October 15 we got a dose of cold weather that moved many of the birds farther south,” Stephens says. “It’s moderated since then and we still have Canada geese and some mallards around, but we are definitely past peak migration.”
As far as habitat goes, Stephens is optimistic going into winter. “We have gotten some solid rains of late so soil moisture is pretty good going into freeze-up,” he reports. “We’ll still need quite a bit of snow to fill all the dry seasonal and semi-permanent wetlands that we have right now. I guess we’ll see what the winter brings.”
Reports from the field indicate that Alberta, which received an early taste of winter this year, offered productive waterfowl hunting in many areas this season.
“We had a good fall, but it was atypical in terms of staging and migration,” explains Ron Maher, DU Canada’s manager of provincial operations in Alberta. “Heavy snows in late September in the western and north-central parts of the province created some interesting conditions for waterfowl and hunters.”
Maher notes that Alberta lost most of its ducks and geese in mid-October, but significant numbers of mallards and Canada geese remain. This next cold front may close the door for waterfowl lingering in the province, at least the majority of them.
“Some of these pockets will continue to hold birds, especially Canada geese and mallards, as long as water remains open,” Maher says. “Our bigger urban areas tend to hold birds well into the fall, even through November.”
Saskatchewan had variable wetland conditions this fall as localized precipitation inundated some areas, while other parts of the province remained very dry. Late harvests left waterfowlers scrambling throughout the season but hunting reports from Saskatchewan were positive overall.
“It’s fair to say 50 to 75 percent of the birds migrated out of Saskatchewan during the past two weeks,” reports Kelly Rempel, DU Canada’s head of habitat asset management in Saskatchewan. “There are still some areas with decent numbers of mallards, Canadas, and snows. However, the forecast for the next five days is for more snow and colder temperatures, so this will likely push a lot of the remaining birds out by the end of this week.”
As Canada and the northern Great Plains states descend into winter, the influx of migrating waterfowl into mid-latitude and southern states will continue. Moorman recommends that hunters keep a close eye on each incoming cold front.
“So far, the waterfowl migration looks to be on schedule,” “Moorman says. “For those folks waiting for mallards, keep an eye on the freeze line as mallards are hardy birds that stay as far north as they can most winters.”
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