Migration Alert: Duck Numbers Up, Habitat Variable across Louisiana

Nov. 16, 2021 – Louisiana

© Michael Furtman

The West Zone of Louisiana’s 2021−22 regular duck season kicked off last weekend, and the East Zone will begin November 20. The state now has a two-zone framework in place for the next five seasons. The Coastal Zone has been incorporated into the West Zone along with a small area formerly in the East Zone and will have three splits. The East Zone remains mostly the same and will have two splits.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) also has a new waterfowl program manager. LDWF biologist Jason Olszak has taken the position previously held by Larry Reynolds for the past 15 years.

Olszak can only make an educated guess about how many waterfowl are headed south this fall, following the cancellation of the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey for the second consecutive year due to pandemic restrictions.

“We have no national survey information, but we have to assume that the numbers are low. Information from waterfowl managers across the country and Canada shows that it has been dry in many areas, which certainly has an impact on waterfowl breeding success,” he says.

Last week, Olszak took to the skies for the state’s November duck survey. The results are not stellar, but still a big improvement over last November’s dismal count. “Although this year’s estimate of 1.3 million ducks is the highest since 2017 and up from last November’s record-low estimate (855,000), the numbers are still below the most recent five-year (1.5 million) and 10-year (1.7 million) averages,” he says.

Parts of the Louisiana coast are still reeling from Category 4 Hurricane Ida that roared ashore in late August, and some heavily impacted areas are almost devoid of waterfowl. “An area near Houma/Barataria Bay has a swath of damage where the marsh is terribly chopped up, and we did not see many birds. However, the path of the storm was fairly narrow, and increased numbers of birds are holding in those areas immediately east and west of the more damaged areas. Despite Hurricane Ida’s impacts in the southeast marshes, both coastal regions showed increased waterfowl numbers from last year. Estimates in southwest and southeast Louisiana are up 57 percent and 19 percent, respectively,” Olszak reports.

Perpetual hotspot Venice was mostly spared from major hurricane damage and is looking good. “We have plenty of feed, and there are areas that are just full of pintails,” reports veteran hunter Jim Taylor. “We had good shoots both mornings this weekend with lots of teal, pintails, and some grays.”

The Delacroix marsh was heavily impacted by Hurricane Ida’s high winds and storm surge. Captain Chris Pike, with Cast & Blast Charters, offers some tips for the coming season: “The influx of the high water has definitely killed and knocked down most of the marsh grass, which means you will really need to keep a super low profile this season to not stick out like a sore thumb, especially come January. The biggest tip I have for this season is to get out of the boats and forget the pop-up blinds this year. You will need to get in the grass and stay low to have quality hunts.”

Reports from southwest Louisiana have been spotty, but some areas are reporting good concentrations of birds and successful youth/veteran hunts. The survey found dry conditions across most of the agricultural zone, but many fields that were holding water were also holding good numbers of ducks.

Although much of the state has received below-average rainfall and many areas are too dry, Catahoula Lake in the East Zone has good water levels for dabbling ducks and recently received a big influx of pintails. Of the estimated 78,000 dabblers counted on the lake, 63,000 were pintails.

While waterfowl numbers are certainly much better than last year’s, they remain below long-term averages, Olszak cautions. He offers the following advice: “Hunters should take advantage of any opportunities they find and make the most of them.”