Migration Alert: December Cold, Snow Spurs Migration in Central Flyway

Dec. 30, 2021 – Central Flyway

© Michael Furtman

Waterfowl hunters in midlatitude states in the Central Flyway have seen an increase in duck and goose numbers after a round of winter weather hit North Dakota and South Dakota over the Christmas weekend.

The weather system that impacted the Dakotas included strong northwest winds, bitterly cold temperatures and some snow, and numerous observations of high-flying flocks of Canada geese and snow geese were reported.

Wildlife officials in both North Dakota and South Dakota are scheduled to conduct midwinter waterfowl surveys next week, but with the availability of open water now limited to the Missouri River corridor, remaining waterfowl will likely be concentrated on larger reservoirs.

“Canada goose numbers have been building on the Missouri River since before Christmas,” says Joel Bich, wildlife biologist with the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe in central South Dakota. “Mallard numbers on the river peaked in mid-December and then began to decline around December 20. Lake Sharpe is now frozen, so the ducks have almost completely moved out of this region. It’s just about all Canada geese at this point.”

Among the areas benefiting from the exodus of waterfowl from the northern plains is western Nebraska.

“We’ve seen a huge influx of Canada geese, snow geese and even some white-fronted geese,” says veteran Nebraska waterfowler Doug Steinke. “It’s the first Canada geese that we’ve shot all season because it has finally gotten colder.”

Steinke says that the season has been tough overall because of above-average temperatures. Warm water sources, which typically remain open in cold temperatures and attract large numbers of mallards and Canada geese, have not produced like they normally do.

“I’m sure for those who hunt the sandhills or pothole basins this has been a better year because those water bodies stayed open longer,” Steinke says, adding that the recently improved hunting along rivers in western and central Nebraska could be short lived.

“We’re supposed to get four to six inches of snow on Saturday, so the birds that are here now could be gone by Monday,” Steinke says.