Migration Alert: Badger State Hunters Benefit from Cold Weather

Oct. 30, 2020 – Mississippi Flyway – Wisconsin

© Michael Furtman

Mississippi Flyway waterfowl are stacking up in the western Great Lakes Region, including in Wisconsin, where waterfowl hunters have reported consistent success over the past week.

Many areas of the Badger State are holding near peak waterfowl numbers, especially on migration hot spots scattered throughout Wisconsin. The weather forecast for the next ten days is relatively seasonal, so many birds should hang around.

“We have seen a significant portion of our wood ducks and teal already leave the state but hunters in the interior are starting to see a nice push of dabblers, including good numbers of mallards, gadwalls and wigeon,” says Taylor Finger, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) wildlife biologist.

In the southwest, the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge is a stopover for millions of migratory birds, including ducks, geese and swans that rest and feed on the refuge during spring and fall migrations.

Earlier this week, WDNR wildlife biologist Brenda Kelly observed large rafts of canvasbacks on the Mississippi River, with an estimated 30,000 noted on Lake Onalaska (Pool 7) alone and 200,000 divers in Pool 9. In addition, she observed large numbers of pintails and wigeon on pools 7, 8 and 9. Kelly notes that canvasback numbers will continue to build over the next couple of weeks and adds that roughly 50 percent of the continental population of cans travels through the Upper Mississippi River corridor.

Incidentally, an impressive number of migrating tundra swans are utilizing the prime habitat found along the Mississippi River on their way east to their traditional wintering grounds along the Atlantic coast. As of Monday, nearly 10,000 swans were observed on Pool 8 alone, according to Kelly.

The northeast corner of Wisconsin has an abundance of marsh and big water habitat including Lake Winnebago and Lake Michigan’s Green Bay as well as numerous smaller bays that dot the coast of the big lake. This is diver country, and according to Finger, diving duck numbers are growing.

“Right now, it’s predominantly scaup, goldeneyes and buffleheads. There are still some redheads and canvasbacks on Green Bay, but considerably fewer than a few weeks ago,” Finger says. “A significant portion of the North Zone is already seeing bodies of water freeze up, but it looks like they could open up again with some warmer weather this week.”

DU volunteer and guide Dave Heath hunts prime diving duck staging areas along Lake Michigan’s coastal marshes. Heath has been getting into a mix of species daily, but his specialty is redheads as they push their way east across the Great Lakes. 

“It’s been blowing at 40 mph, and a big push of redheads is in town,” Heath says. “As of Thursday morning, the push was still on with high winds and cold temperatures.”

Heavy hunting pressure has been noted in many areas this year, especially in the southeast corner of the state.

“There are definitely more people hunting this year,” says Mossy Oak pro-staffer Robin Strahl. “I’d say right now, many birds have moved out of this area, but we are still seeing mallards, woodies and teal. We hunted Saturday, and it was ridiculous how many ducks we saw during the morning. We are also seeing tons of geese. We kicked about 400 off our flooded field, and it included some smaller Canadas mixed in with the big honkers. They are moving pretty much all day.”

With moderating weather conditions more representative of the season in the forecast, duck hunters should pack their blind bags and head to the nearest marsh in the coming days to take advantage of what can only be described as promising opportunities.