Migration Alert: Duck and Goose Numbers Increasing Across Wisconsin

Oct. 30, 2018 – Mississippi Flyway – Wisconsin

Photo © Michael Furtman

By Jay Anglin, WF360 Great Lakes Region Migration Editor

From the pools of the Mississippi River in the west to the big water of the Great Lakes in the east and north and on countless marshes, lakes, and rivers in between, the state of Wisconsin offers incredibly diverse waterfowl hunting opportunities. Reports from hunters across the Badger State are generally positive as the waterfowl migration progresses and bird numbers continue to increase.

“I would say that our main migration is likely under way if not slightly past its peak in the north and central parts of the state. We are seeing really good numbers on the Mississippi River and Green Bay,” says Taylor Finger, a biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “There are still plenty of mallards and wood ducks throughout much of the state, which means that a lot of our local birds are still around and available for hunters.” 

Unprecedented heavy rains in recent months plagued much of the state with high water conditions, but also provided unique opportunities for hunters to target birds using temporary wetlands, flooded backwaters, and sheet water in agricultural fields.

“The high water along major river systems in the south is holding a lot of ducks, but it’s making for some tough hunting,” reports Ducks Unlimited Regional Biologist Brian Glenzinski. “Most of the soybeans have been harvested and corn is coming off rapidly, making for ample field hunting opportunities for geese.”

Wisconsin is well-known for outstanding Canada goose and dabbler hunting, but many waterfowlers also focus on diving ducks. Migration timing of the various diving duck species is remarkably predictable from year to year as these birds are known as “calendar ducks” and typically migrate regardless of weather conditions. Late October through mid-November is prime time for divers throughout the state.

Millions of ducks, geese, and swans funnel down the Mississippi River, making it one of the most significant migration corridors in North America. Smack dab in the middle of the Mississippi Flyway is the 261-mile-long Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, sandwiched between Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. Incredible rafts of waterfowl gather on the various navigation impoundments along the river, including revered hot spots such as Pools 7, 8 and 9.

This stretch of the Mississippi hosts the largest concentrations of canvasbacks in North America, with peak numbers as high as 400,000 birds in early November. This section of the river also offers plenty of public access for properly equipped hunters.

The Wisconsin DNR conducts aerial surveys of the Mississippi River as well as Green Bay. Results can be found on the Wisconsin DNR website survey page. The survey flights are dependent on weather, so the timing of surveys may vary. According to Finger, new counts should be posted early next week.

In the extreme northeast part of the state, Dave Heath spends nearly every day of the season hunting divers with friends and clients on the waters surrounding Door County. “We are just starting to finally see some good flocks of redheads, which are the primary birds that we hunt. For the most part, it has been very slow so far,” Heath says. “The birds have been running a tad late this season.”

In addition to inshore waterfowl hunting opportunities, impressive numbers of long-tailed ducks along with several other species of diving ducks raft in the deeper waters of Lake Michigan. While longtails are well-known along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, these sporty birds are becoming an increasingly popular target for Great Lakes hunters who have the necessary equipment to hunt deep offshore waters. The Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan is hard to beat, and diving duck numbers have been increasing daily according to hunters who specialize in pursuing these birds.

Overall, the outlook for Wisconsin waterfowl hunting is excellent as good numbers of local birds will mix with a diverse influx of migrants over the next few weeks.

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Jay Anglin is an avid hunter, fisherman, and guide from LaPorte, Indiana. A veteran writer, Anglin, holds a biology degree from Northern Michigan University. He will be providing migration updates from the Great Lakes Region throughout the 2018-2019 waterfowl season.