Migration Alert: Arctic System Slows Light Goose Migration in Midwest

Feb. 5, 2021 – Great Lakes Region

The 2021 Light Goose Conservation Order opened in many states on February 1, marking the beginning of what has become a ritual for waterfowl hunters who relish the grind of chasing snow geese.

Although Great Lakes hunters traditionally venture south and west to take advantage of the white hordes, good opportunities have become available closer to home, as impressive concentrations of snows can often be found in southern Illinois and Indiana throughout the winter.

While geese are abundant there at this time, a significant blast of Arctic air moving southward through the Great Lakes region will undoubtedly have an impact. Temperatures will plunge into the single digits and even subzero range, with daytime highs struggling to break into the teens.

The line where the frigid air and slightly more seasonal temperatures meet is well-defined, with the southern third of both Indiana and Illinois predicted to be somewhat warmer. And, even when frigid weather locks up ponds and lakes, geese take advantage of warm-water discharges and cooling lakes associated with power plants located throughout the region.

So, the question is, will the light geese stay put or bounce back south? 

“There are tons of snows here now,” says Sean Herrick, guide and owner of Willow Creek Waterfowl, located smack dab in the middle of Illinois’ migration superhighway. “We are on what I feel to be the leading edge, so this cold snap could hurt us big time in the short term. But we don’t have any snow, and I don’t think they’ll all leave with just the cold. These leading-edge birds are very hardy. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens.”

Farther north, waterfowl ecologist Aaron Yetter with the Forbes Biological Station traveled from Havana to Peoria on February 3, keeping a close eye out for snow geese.

“There were a few flocks up here near Havana last week, but today I didn’t see any during my travels. I don’t think there are very many here yet,” explains Yetter, who notes that Forbes staff will resume aerial surveys beginning on February 15. These surveys should provide a glimpse of where the light goose migration stands.

While snow geese may be the hot topic, it is also worth noting that waterfowlers in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana are enjoying outstanding late-season dark goose hunting. Reports of stellar hunts for Canada geese have become the standard in the past few weeks, and even in northern Indiana, white-fronted geese have become a routine bonus to fill out dark-goose bag limits in some areas. While specks that had pushed as far north as the Indiana-Michigan state line have been driven back south by increasing snow depth, very impressive numbers of these wayward migrators are currently stacked up in some of the larger river valleys in southern Indiana and adjacent Illinois.