Migration Alert: Good Bird Numbers, Low Water in Colorado

Nov. 13, 2020 – Central Flyway – Colorado

© Brent Gale

Waterfowl hunters in eastern Colorado are seeing an increase in both duck and goose numbers after a recent cold front swept through the state.

The first significant push of birds into eastern Colorado occurred during the last week of October, says Loveland hunter Vance Stolz, when a large number of lesser Canada geese and mallards arrived on the Front Range.

“From what I can tell, I would say we have above-average numbers of birds staging here for this time of year,” Stolz says.

Matt Reddy, DU regional biologist in Colorado, agrees, noting that although recent cold temperatures have pushed early migrants and local ducks out of the region, waterfowl numbers remain strong overall.

“Over the last few days the geese have really shown up on the Platte River and on the reservoirs,” Reddy says. “There are large and small subspecies of Canada geese, snows, and I have seen a few specks, too.”

While waterfowl numbers are solid, Reddy cautions that water levels in eastern Colorado are not, which could have an impact on hunting success.

“The snow that we recently received helped a bit, but overall, our reservoir levels are extremely low, and they are the water bodies that tend hold birds,” Reddy says. “Those reservoirs closer to the Front Range tend to be more resilient, but the further east you go, the worse things get.”

Lower reservoir levels place more pressure on the Platte River to provide roosting water for waterfowl, Reddy says, and it doesn’t take long for hunting pressure to push those birds off the river and out of the region.

“The upside to our water conditions is that the ducks and geese that are here are fairly concentrated, so if you find water, you are likely going to find birds,” Reddy says.

Available water is also the limiting factor for hunters in the San Luis Valley, reports Suzanne Beauchaine, refuge manager at both the Monte Vista and Alamosa National Wildlife Refuges in south-central Colorado.

“Wetlands have been freezing up, but I am still seeing both ducks and geese in the agricultural fields in the area, so I know that we haven’t lost all of the birds,” Beauchaine says. “Our sandhill crane numbers appeared to be at peak levels earlier this week, and those numbers have been on the decline with the colder temperatures, too.”

Beauchaine describes the migration into the San Luis Valley this fall as “interesting,” noting specifically that duck numbers were lower than expected before a push of birds appeared with a recent cold front.

“With the wetlands freezing up, we may be past some of the best hunting, but temperatures may warm enough to open things back up, which could create more opportunities,” Beauchaine says.