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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Find out what’s going on during International Migratory Bird Day

As Ducks Unlimited recognizes International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) on May 10, 2008 ducks and geese have left their wintering areas for the breeding grounds, some have arrived while others are still strenuously traveling North in search of prime breeding habitat. Waterfowl hunters are witnesses to large numbers of birds during hunting season, but many hunters may be unaware of where these birds go in Spring. DU biologists and staff have put countless hours into finding out where these birds go. What a better way to spend IMBD than to find out where birds are in several locations throughout the country on this celebration of migratory birds.

Where are your favorite birds going in Spring?


To follow the mallard; let’s start with its first step toward the North. With the first warm southern winds, a mallard that spent her winter near Stuttgart, Ark., begins to move north with her mate, which she paired with sometime in mid-December. On her journey this particular migrating mallard moves into northern Missouri and then on to South Dakota by the middle of March. Spring migration is typically less regimented than fall migration. Most waterfowl make numerous stops during spring migration to feed and rest or participate in courtship and pair formation processes.

Continuing her journey she moves into North Dakota and by April is in the Prairie Pothole Region of southern Saskatchewan. All the while her mate has followed by her side. Now on the breeding grounds the hen is ready to dig out a nest bowl in the lush prairie grasses. As long as a suitable habitat exists, she will more than likely be on the nest by the end of April. Two weeks from May 10, IMBD the first mallard nests will hatch and broods will appear on the prairie wetlands.


A pintail hen that spent her winter on the Louisiana Gulf Coast heads north through Louisiana, Arkansas, then on to the Nebraska Rainwater Basin, just as shallow wetlands in the region are beginning to thaw.

After refueling for a couple days it’s on toward the Prairie Pothole Region, passing vacant duck blinds and using sufficient wetlands as rest stops. She may stop in the Milk River Ridge of eastern Alberta. The Milk River Ridge Landscape is found in the Pintail Initiative area a key habitat conservation priority of Ducks Unlimited Canada.

If conditions are good our pintail hen will stop here and begin laying eggs by the end of April beginning of May. If wetlands are dry she will continue on to the parkland and boreal forest forgoing breeding until next year. Those who venturing out in the north on IMBD, could come across nesting pintail and mallards.

Wood duck

The wood duck hen spent her winter lounging around T.M Goodwin Wildlife Management Area near Fellsmere, Fla. and doesn’t plan to move far. While some wood ducks will fly thousands of miles to return to northern breeding grounds, others are locally raised and choose to travel a very short distance. Nesting wood ducks have been documented in just about every state in the U.S. This particular hen has moved north, but only to the backwater of the New Landing River in Virginia. She has chosen a mate, normally pairing by November, and has been on the nest well before many other birds as she has stayed much farther south. This particular hen has chosen a wood duck box placed and properly maintained by a DU volunteer and her clutch has hatched. Depending on geographical location, one might see wood ducks nesting or possibly with a brood that is nearly a month old on IMBD. In southern locations some wood ducks may actually hatch two nests in a season.

Lesser Scaup

The lesser scaup, commonly known as a bluebill, hen has traveled far to reach her wintering grounds. By mid-March, large rafts of migrating scaup stopped along the Mississippi River, Pool 19 near Keokuk, Iowa and since then have continued on to the far northern reaches of Canada. She stops intermittently, but heads for the Western Boreal Forest. Searching for this historic scaup breeding grounds, she will be looking for a nesting site on IMBD likely close by to where she hatched. This far north very few people will be able to see her. She will be digging out a nest bowl within the next few weeks and laying her eggs. With luck her nest will hatch in late June. Are you wanting to learn more about Scaup? Ducks Unlimited is currently doing research and following scaup with transmitters as they return North during the breeding season.

Black Duck

The black duck hen spent her winter in and around the Chesapeake Bay riding out the winter on the large open water and back bays. As spring approached she moved north over the Appalachian Mountains flew across the Canadian border and turned northeast into Quebec. In the northeast corner of Canada, she will find a suitable nesting area and begin to dig out a nest bowl. She will line the nest with down when she begins laying eggs, one per day until she reaches a clutch of 10-12. By IMBD, she is more than likely finished laying and on the nest incubating her eggs. Want to see where other black ducks are on IMBD, check out the black duck tracking research Ducks Unlimited is currently doing.


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