Migration Alert: Early Migrants Arriving in North Carolina, Positive News for Opener

Nov. 15, 2019 – Atlantic Flyway – North Carolina

© Michael Furtman

If the recent lofty calls of migrating geese and swans over Virginia are any indication, waterfowl are streaming into the Delmarva Peninsula and North Carolina. A recent cold front, bringing precipitation and subfreezing temperatures across much of the northern tier of the eastern United States, is doing what Mid-Atlantic waterfowlers love—pushing birds south.

North Carolina’s 2019–20 waterfowl season opens Nov. 16 and late-week forecasts call for coastal areas to be hit with a nor’easter, with gale force winds gusting to up to 40 miles per hour along with significant rainfall. It could make access more than a little “sporty,” so hunters should exercise sound judgement when boating to hunting areas. But hunters will likely benefit from the blast of winter weather that arrived earlier this week.

Migration seems to be well under way here, with gadwalls, pintails, ruddy ducks, black scoters and other species appearing in North Carolina’s coastal region,” says Sally Yannuzzi, a waterfowl biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. “We’re starting to see more tundra swans and Canada geese pushing into the area as well.”

Wood ducks, a staple for many North Carolina hunters, seem to be in good supply again this year. Yannuzzi says preseason wood duck banding operations and nest-box monitoring indicated an average hatch.

Refuge managers for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are also reporting healthy, early populations of waterfowl. Becky Harrison, supervisory wildlife biologist at Alligator River and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuges, reports that waterfowl numbers have increased significantly in recent days.

“We had a slow start, but things are rapidly ramping up with this week’s cold front,” Harrison says. “We’re still getting water onto some areas, but we already have about 1,500 tundra swans here, with most arriving in the last week.”

The Pea Island complex, in particular, is holding impressive numbers of waterfowl. “There are probably 10,000-plus birds between three impoundments, including some 500 tundra swans and 1,000 wigeon,” Harrison says.

She adds that she expects to see wigeon and bufflehead numbers continue to increase throughout November, with more diving ducks arriving in mid-December and into January.

“There is quite a bit of diversity here already,” Harrison says.