Migration Alert: Snow, Cold Offers Welcome Change in Weather for Great Lakes Waterfowlers

Nov. 26, 2018 – Mississippi Flyway – Great Lakes Region

By Jay Anglin, WF360 Great Lakes Migration Editor

For waterfowlers in the northern portions of the Great Lakes region, duck hunting opportunities have dwindled on most inland waters. The large marshes associated with many Great Lakes bays and Lake St. Clair are either freezing or already covered with ice. Other than the Great Lakes themselves and large rivers, very little open water is available for waterfowl or hunters.

On the plus side, Canada goose numbers remain strong on many popular hunting areas in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Reports indicate limits of honkers are being taken with regularity during field hunts, and goose hunting should remain excellent until deep snow drives the big birds farther south.

Diving duck hunting remains good if not excellent on the big water with hunters reporting limits of redheads, canvasbacks, bluebills, buffleheads and long-tailed ducks on Lake St. Clair, Lake Michigan and Lake Erie, as well as on large inland lakes.

The Mississippi and Illinois Rivers remain bright spots with hundreds of thousands of ducks and geese holding in and around the various navigation pools and refuges from Illinois north into Wisconsin and Minnesota.

“Bird numbers are on the decline, but there is still a good contingent of mallards and divers—predominantly canvasbacks—that will hang on until freeze-up,” says Wisconsin DNR Mississippi River Wildlife Biologist Brenda Kelly, who is based in Lacrosse.

Located in Havana, Illinois, Forbes Biological Station staff also conduct weekly aerial waterfowl inventories. “Much of the ice from the previous week has thawed and the ducks have spread out again across the landscape. Overall, duck numbers along the Illinois River declined about 14 percent last week to just under 332,000 ducks,” reports Forbes station waterfowl ecologist Aaron Yetter.

Aerial survey results for the Mississippi River are available on the Wisconsin DNR website. Aerial waterfowl inventory results for the Illinois section of the Mississippi River and the Illinois River Valley as well as Yetter’s fascinating blog can be found on the Forbes Biological Station website.

Many waterfowlers in central and southern Ohio and Indiana are still waiting for a major push of waterfowl from the north. As Lake Erie marshes freeze and the open waters of the lake become unruly, many of the mallards and black ducks holding out along the shoreline will move south.

“Most marshes in northeast Ohio have frozen over, forcing birds to open water,” says northeast Ohio DU volunteer Perrin Sah. “Diver numbers in particular have increased recently in larger lakes and open water.” 

Heavy snow is in the forecast for much of Illinois and Wisconsin and potentially for parts of Indiana and Michigan through Tuesday. With any luck, the fresh birds everybody is hoping for will make an appearance in the coming days.

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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.