Migration Alert: Dealing with Late-Season Extremes

Jan. 7, 2014 - Mississippi Flyway
From 60 to Zero in a Week

Some parts of the nation recently saw 60-degree swings in temperature, along with wind, rain, and snow to go with it. With dramatic changes in weather, both duck behavior and waterfowl hunter behavior change dramatically. Ducks are already in the process of pairing, accumulating body reserves for migration, and trying to survive the last month of the hunting season. Waterfowl hunters are looking for just a few more flocks of ducks or geese over the decoys

Southward duck migrations are essentially complete. Regional and local movements, however, will continue to confound hunting prospects as weather, bird behavior, and hunting activity combine to make the late season just as dynamic and unpredictable as any time of the fall and winter. Hunters may already have noticed changes in how ducks react to decoys and duck calls. For species like mallards, most of which are well on their way to forming pairs, birds are becoming increasingly unresponsive to standard tactics. Habitat preferences change, food habits shift, and hunters can find the late season to be somewhat frustrating.

Extreme late-season weather just adds to the variability. A dramatic freeze-up concentrates birds in remaining open water, changes the timing of feeding flights, and makes many hunting areas relatively inaccessible and, in some cases, dangerous. Sleet, freezing rain, and snow not only affect the availability of duck food but add to the variables that waterfowlers must account for during late-season weather extremes. From a hunting perspective, take it slow. The ducks aren’t going anywhere anytime soon when temperatures drop into the teens and colder. They are just trying to survive the weather extremes, and hunters need to be certain to do the same.

From Zero to 60 in a Week 

When warmer weather returns, often in just a few days, waterfowl behavior changes again. Temperatures may be in the single digits for a short time; however, as ice is replaced by open water, ducks respond even more dramatically. Melting snow and runoff over frozen ground or a rain event shortly after a hard freeze can change the waterfowl landscape overnight. Significant flooding can occur, and ducks and duck hunters are faced with conditions that are the polar opposite of those experienced just a few days earlier. Ducks certainly benefit from these late-season changes in habitat conditions. Hunters can as well. 

However, the same caution exercised during the freeze-up needs to be in place when open water and flooding occur. Don’t get in a hurry, and use caution when crossing large bodies of water and swollen rivers. The ducks are trying to figure out how to respond to the new conditions, and hunters should take care to do so as well.