Migration Alert: Cold, Snow Usher Waterfowl into North Dakota

Oct. 12, 2018 – Central Flyway – North Dakota

Photo © Dean Davenport

By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Migration Editor

Waterfowl hunters in North Dakota are reporting an increase in the number of ducks and geese as wintry weather spurs a migration of birds out of Prairie Canada.

Mark Fisher, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Devils Lake Wetland Management District, says that the most significant sign of a migration of new birds into north-central North Dakota is the number of snow geese now feeding in the chiseled wheat fields throughout the area.

“They started showing up around the second week in October, and their numbers really started to build before our latest round of snow and cold,” Fisher says. Small Arctic-nesting Canada geese have also arrived in good numbers.

“You can’t spend any time outside or drive around without seeing some of those little Canada geese,” he says. “Just another sign that the migration has really kicked in around this part of the state.”

Hunter numbers in the area have risen steadily in recent days, Fisher says, and he noticed a significant bump in mallard numbers earlier this week ahead of a “good old Dakota-style winter storm,” that dumped snow across much of eastern North Dakota.

“The past three or four days have been more about the cold here around Devils Lake,” Fisher adds. “The big waters are still open, but our small stuff, at least what’s left of it, is locked up. Wetland conditions in this area are not good; it’s probably the driest I’ve ever seen things here in over fifteen years.”

The dry conditions are not limited to the Devils Lake region, as much of the state experienced a dry end to the summer.

In central North Dakota, varying wetland levels have ducks and geese concentrated in areas with good water. Finding the birds requires extra scouting time.

“We have new mallards, pintails, and Canada geese showing up every day with the unusually cold temperatures and snow, but you have to do your work,” explains Avery/Banded pro-staff member Joe Fladeland of Bismarck.

With the dry conditions, farmers in the state have a jump-start on the harvest, Fladeland says, and the birds are hitting everything from oat stubble to combined corn.

“Everything is just a little ahead of schedule this year, it seems,” Fladeland says.

Mike Szymanski, head waterfowl biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, echoes the need to cover a lot of ground to find birds, noting that there are good numbers of ducks and geese across the state, including a growing number of large Canada geese that have moved back south after spending the molting season in Canada.

Szymanski also agrees that aspects of the fall season are moving along at a decent clip.

“We’re still early in the season, and I think the weather is going to moderate a bit, but the extended stretch of cold weather that we’ve had has our water temperatures at a point where it wouldn’t take much to freeze things up for good,” Szymanski says. “When it’s time, I’m afraid the open water will go quickly.”

John Pollmann is a freelance writer from Dell Rapids, South Dakota, who is an avid waterfowler and conservationist. Pollmann will provide hunting and habitat reports for the Central and Mississippi Flyways throughout the 2018-2019 waterfowl season.