Early teal seasons are already under way in portions of the Central Flyway, and hunters are reporting impressive numbers of birds in many areas. With a round of unseasonably cold weather in the forecast this week, opportunities to put some bluewings on the strap should only improve. What follows is a look at habitat conditions and teal numbers across the Central Flyway.
North Dakota and South Dakota
In the absence of the traditional U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s (NDGF) annual breeding duck survey has been getting a lot of attention this year. The agency estimates that more than 1 million breeding blue-wings settled in the state this spring.
“This isn’t a record number of blue-winged teal, but it is still very good,” explains NDGF Migratory Game Bird Management Supervisor Mike Szymanski.
The abundance of bluewings in North Dakota reflected the quality of habitat conditions found in the state this spring, and it is also why so many of the birds also stopped in South Dakota.
“Based on my observations and those of our staff out in the field, I think we may have had some of the best blue-winged teal production in many years,” says Rocco Murano, chief waterfowl biologist for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. “The amount of water out there this spring attracted a lot of teal, and then the conditions allowed those birds to have a successful nesting season. There seemed to be duck broods everywhere. It sure looks like we had a bumper crop of bluewings.”
In late August, a cold front swept through eastern South Dakota, bringing a drop in temperatures, a northwest wind, and clear skies under a bright full moon, which kick-started an exodus of bluewings out of the state.
“There was a lot of chatter in late August about the number of teal showing up in places as far south as Texas and Louisiana, but we were still holding a good number of them up until this most recent cold snap,” says Murano, referencing the cold front that passed through the state on Labor Day. “Hopefully, there are still a few around for our youth hunt coming up later this week, as I’m taking my daughter on her first hunt.”
Teal season is already under way in the Cornhusker State, and blue-winged teal numbers have been promising thus far.
“We certainly saw a good push of teal into the state in August, which helped our hunters during the first few days of the September teal season,” reports Jacob Bushaw, a waterfowl biologist with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. “I think our hunters have also benefited from a really good hatch of bluewings in the Sandhills too.”
Bushaw led a banding crew in the Sandhills in north-central Nebraska last month. Of the 120 bluewings they banded, only five were adult birds. “That’s a pretty good indication that this region had a good hatch,” he says.
Wetland conditions in the Sandhills are still good, Bushaw says, but hunters are encountering drier conditions elsewhere in the state, including the Rainwater Basin in south-central Nebraska. Rain showers expected this week could help improve conditions, however.
“Our season wraps up this weekend, and any new water on the landscape is going to attract teal,” Bushaw says. “And as we get closer to the regular duck season, the water conditions are going to continue to impact where hunters find birds.”
Teal began showing up in Kansas in late August, and there are still good numbers of birds throughout the state heading into the early teal opener this weekend.
“I am a bit concerned about the cold temperatures in the forecast with some overnight lows dipping into the 30s, so hopefully the birds don’t push through. We have the habitat and food for them this year,” says Jason Wagner, manager of the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area in central Kansas.
Wagner says that in addition to blue-winged teal, Kansas has also received a good push of other early migrants such as northern shovelers and gadwalls.
“And I’m really surprised at the number of green-winged teal that have shown up,” Wagner says. “Typically, they arrive in late October, but I’m noticing quite a few around. Hunters shouldn’t be surprised to see some over their decoys.”
Blue-winged teal have also started to arrive in Oklahoma, and the table is set to welcome a whole lot more, according to Josh Richardson, senior migratory game bird biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“Overall, our habitat conditions are looking pretty decent, and there is good availability of food and water for these early migrating birds,” Richardson says, adding that weather conditions during the summer allowed the department to complete much of the management work required to produce a good crop of moist-soil plants that provide food for waterfowl.
Oklahoma’s teal season opens this weekend, and Richardson believes that the cold front dipping down from the northern plains could arrive at just about the right time.
“We are certainly expecting to see more birds this weekend,” Richardson says. “After the ups and downs of the past few seasons, it would be good to see the teal show up here and give hunters some early opportunities this year.”