Migration Alert: Good Bird Numbers, Slow Hunting in Much of Illinois

Dec. 7, 2020 – Mississippi Flyway – Illinois

© Michael Furtman

Millions of waterfowl migrate through Illinois each season, and this year has been no exception. In particular, the Illinois and Mississippi River Valleys are holding impressive numbers of ducks and geese.

A big cold front brought falling temperatures this week, freezing many shallow wetlands and concentrating waterfowl along the rivers.

“We witnessed a substantial increase in duck numbers on the lower Mississippi River,” reports Aaron Yetter, waterfowl ecologist at the Stephen A. Forbes Biological Station near Havana. “The large concentrations of ducks are keeping the water open in small pockets where they are highly visible during aerial surveys. Some of the clubs have reported improved hunting success, but many hunters are still struggling.”

DU regional biologist Mike Sertle is one of those hunters. “We hunted every day from Thanksgiving through Tuesday and shot one mallard despite picking up hundreds of thousands of ducks within five miles of us,” he laments. “There are over 1 million birds in the Illinois survey area, but you wouldn’t know it by how slow the hunting has been.”

Illinois DNR Wetland Wildlife Program Manager Randy Smith echoes Sertle’s sentiments. “In the Central Zone along the Illinois River, we’ve been struggling with stale birds and low success in most places,” he says.

While many hunters focused on mallards and other dabblers are singing the blues, hunters geared for divers on the Mississippi River and large inland lakes are reporting consistent shooting overall. In addition, goose hunting has been saving the day for some hunters, including Smith, who had a great hunt earlier this week for white-fronted and Canada geese.

“Specks are unusually abundant right now, and they are a personal favorite of mine in the field and on the table,” Smith says. “I think many hunters in our area struggle unless they are exactly where the specks want to be or there is some weather that causes them to lose some of their wariness. Monday’s wind and colder temperatures allowed us to have one of our better hunts of the year.”

In northern Illinois, along the fringes of the Chicago metropolitan area, impressive concentrations of Canada geese are offering excellent hunting opportunities.

“I expect to see some new geese this week and a decent push of mallards given the ice building to the north and west of us,” says outfitter Matt Porter, of Porters Outdoors. “The second half of goose season is shaping up to be excellent. As temperatures cool down, the birds require more calories so they will feed twice a day, and our morning and afternoon hunts should be good for the rest of the season.”

Comprehensive aerial inventories are flown weekly in Illinois. The latest counts as well as Yetter’s insightful blog can be found online by visiting the Forbes station website.