By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Migration Editor
An extended period of cold temperatures, snow, and persistent winds out of the north have driven a considerable number of ducks and geese out of Prairie Canada and North Dakota. Several midlatitude states are on the receiving end of this push, including Nebraska and Missouri as well as sections of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, where a near record number of dabbling and diving ducks are beginning to stage.
Officials at the Frank C. Bellrose Waterfowl Research Center in central Illinois are reporting a nearly 90 percent increase in duck numbers on the Mississippi River along the state’s western border compared to last week. The most impressive numbers can be found on Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge in the Confluence region of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, where 324,000 ducks were observed earlier this week.
This impressive surge of waterfowl out of the breeding grounds has also reached other traditional migration stopover areas, including Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding state-managed conservation areas in northern Missouri, where many puddle ducks have been spotted.
The good news for those hunters already enjoying the first significant southward push of waterfowl this year is that there are still more birds to come. “Eastern South Dakota is at peak or near-peak numbers of mallards right now,” says Rocco Murano, chief waterfowl biologist for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. “There has been a sizable migration of both ducks and geese over the course of the last week, and the lack of available open water has these birds concentrated on larger water bodies.”
This includes the stretch of the Missouri River in the center of the state, where hunters are reporting a marked increase in the number of mallards, wigeon, and other puddle ducks. Bigger lakes across the eastern half of the state are also holding large numbers of diving ducks, snow geese, and Canada geese, as well as mallards and other puddle ducks.
The slightly early arrival of winter weather has created quality hunting opportunities in the Mount Rushmore State, Murano says, adding that hunters in Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas are also reaping the benefits of the migration.
Murano reports that pockets of hardy mallards and Canada geese can still be found in Canada and North Dakota, but those areas have largely emptied of waterfowl, which means that hunters to the south now need just one more round of winter weather in South Dakota to give the birds a jolt and build on what has already been a strong start to the waterfowl season.
“The weather in South Dakota does look moderate next week, meaning that we could hold onto a lot of birds—snow geese, Canada geese, and mallards—for the next 10 days or more,” Murano says. “That’s good news for us, but all it takes is one winter weather system and they’ll be moving south.”
With strong numbers of ducks and geese already camping out in midlatitude states, hunters in those areas might be content to wait a few more days for Mother Nature to send the last few birds south.
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 2017-2018 waterfowl season.