Migration Alert: Dry Conditions across Tarheel State, Duck Numbers Increasing

Nov. 17, 2021 – North Carolina

© Michael Furtman

Dry habitat conditions due to a lack of precipitation, coupled with sustained warm weather, are expected to impact the early season for North Carolina waterfowlers.

Doug Howell, migratory game bird coordinator for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, says, “In some cases, this (the dry conditions) affects filling duck impoundments. It may also concentrate birds where there is water.”

Howell has heard of good numbers of ducks that have arrived on the coast, something confirmed by Becky Harrison, supervisory wildlife biologist for the Alligator River and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuges. She says, “We're seeing some decent initial waterfowl numbers at Pea Island. We first observed tundra swans a couple weeks ago and their numbers are slowly increasing on the refuge. If previous years are good indicators, I expect tundra swans to peak around Thanksgiving.”

Harrison explains pintails and wigeon have arrived in decent numbers, with the wigeon count of about 4,000 birds slightly higher than usual. Refuge personnel counted some 9,000 pintails a couple of weeks ago in the impoundments.

“We’re just starting to see the first divers and anticipate those numbers to increase over the next few months,” Harrison adds. “Overall, we've seen 14 different species with about 13,000 ducks total so far. We're tracking similar to last year, which I think is promising since it really hasn't been cold yet.” Harrison says surveys at Alligator River began last week, adding that some of the impoundments are flooded and ready.

Ethan Massey, Ducks Unlimited regional biologist for the area, says the habitat at Pea Island NWR “looked great” the last time he was there, but he is still collecting reports related to submerged aquatic vegetation in the sounds along the North Carolina coast.

Some of the earliest migrators have already trekked through the Tarheel State, Howell believes. Like much of the southern end of the Atlantic Flyway, North Carolina needs weather events to the north to get birds up and moving.