There are two types of Illinois waterfowl hunters: those who hunt in the Illinois and Mississippi River Valleys and the others who live outside these notorious waterfowl super-highways. The lucky ones hunt along these massive river systems, which are blessed with an abundance of waterfowl habitat and, under the right conditions, impressive numbers of ducks and geese. For hunters across the rest of the state, bitter-cold weather is often required to push down the bulk of the migration into their areas.
Thankfully, icy winds did just that a couple of weeks ago, and despite ongoing dry conditions, most hunters across the northern half of Illinois had a crack at fresh ducks and geese. This most recent push of northern birds couldn’t have occurred at a better time as many lingering early-season species have moved down the flyway.
"Despite waters icing up pretty solid in places, we held onto birds throughout the cold snap in the Illinois River Valley over Thanksgiving," reports Josh Osborn, who is based at the Forbes Biological Station near Havana. "This week’s cold snap seems to have pushed more ducks out however, especially the teal, gadwalls, and even many of the divers."
"Abundances of mallards and pintails are above the 10-year average in the valley, and these birds congregated around the open holes along the lower Illinois River this week," Osborne adds. "Movement patterns have changed a bit for many of the birds still around. I’m noticing more and more field feeders since the first freeze. Both rivers are picking up migrating light and dark geese right now. I guess you could say about the same for the Mississippi River. There are still lots of mallards and pintails hanging around, especially on the refuges in the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. Divers, specifically canvasbacks and lesser scaup, are still abundant on Pool 19 of the Mississippi as well.”
The Forbes staff conduct weekly aerial inventories, and the counts as well as Osborn’s fascinating summaries can be found on the station's website.
Illinois South Zone duck and goose seasons open on Saturday, and the most recent IDNR survey indicates that there are currently above-average numbers of ducks throughout a large portion of the southern half of the state. Goose numbers are also increasing, especially snows and white-fronted geese. As the northern tier of the state tightens up with ice, hunters in Southern Illinois (and Indiana) should be on the lookout for an influx of waterfowl in the near future.
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