Migration Alert: Habitat Availability Drives Teal Hunting Success in Great Lakes Region

Sept. 8, 2022 – Great Lakes Region Teal

© Michael Furtman

Waterfowl hunters around the Great Lakes region are rejoicing as early teal and goose seasons kick off. While abnormally dry conditions plague the southern half of Minnesota, northwest Wisconsin, central Illinois, most of Indiana, and east-central Michigan, timely rains have recharged wetlands and brought lake levels back up in many areas. Shallow bays and backwaters that remained dry for an extended period this summer are flush with moist-soil vegetation, which is now flooded, offering teal a buffet of highly desirable food items.

These conditions appear to have slowed much of the second phase of the teal migration. While many bluewings are stacking up in the southern half of the Midwest, a mix of blue-winged and green-winged teal are content to stay further north, enjoying moderate late-summer weather and plenty of food to fatten up on.

Early teal season is a relatively new opportunity for hunters in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Judging by reports from the field, hunters in these states are taking full advantage of this opportunity. Both Wisconsin and Minnesota’s short teal seasons end this week, but hunter participation and success have been relatively high.

“I’ve heard pretty good reports statewide,” says Minnesota DNR waterfowl staff specialist Steve Cordts, who added some valuable insight on water and wetland conditions as well as overall waterfowl numbers in last week’s waterfowl report.

“We have a lot of water this year. We’ve been hunting teal, and numbers are pretty good with lots of shooting on Saturday and Sunday,” says Joe Harren, who primarily hunts big water along the Canadian border in northwest Minnesota. “WE shot a three-to-one or better ratio of bluewings to greenwings, and our goose numbers are pretty good too.”

Wisconsin waterfowlers had to work a little harder to track down good concentrations of teal, but a fair amount of success was reported from key areas around the Badger State.

“We had good water conditions and our marshes were in nice shape, but we saw spotty numbers of teal statewide. It was feast or famine, and scouting was essential this year. We saw more green-winged teal this year than the past couple teal seasons,” explains WDNR Migratory Game Bird Ecologist Taylor Finger.

Michigan’s teal season runs through September 16 and some outstanding reports are coming in from the east side of the state.

“It’s been steady. Pointe Mouillee was on fire opening day, according to the local conservation officer—lots of limits,” says Michigan DNR regional supervisor Joe Robison, who was lucky enough to bag a drake bluewing last weekend that was banded in New Brunswick, Canada.

Robison also reports a roughly 50-50 mix of blue-winged and green-winged teal in the Detroit River/western Lake Erie region of Michigan. The marshes of Lake Erie in Ohio were also holding excellent numbers of both species.

In contrast, western Michigan is not faring as well as the other side of the state as many notorious teal staging areas are holding very few birds.

 “Some of the bigger marshes have a few birds, but it’s pretty slow hunting,” says MDNR wildlife technician Mike Richardson. “Most hunters that did get out were bagging two or three teal per hunt.”

Teal numbers along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers have been hit or miss, with some managed marshes holding excellent numbers of teal while birds are scarce in others.

“Teal numbers were building along the Illinois River as of last week, but birds were mostly absent along the Illinois portion of the Mississippi River,” explains Forbes Biological Research Station Wetland Bird Ecologist Josh Osborn. “Both rivers remained low last week. I suspect that may have changed in places due to the rain we got over the weekend here in Illinois.”

Osborn and Forbes staff are scheduled to conduct aerial inventories of shorebird and teal numbers again this week. The results will be posted on the Forbes Website.

Like Illinois, Indiana’s early teal season opens Saturday (along with early goose season), and teal have been scattered throughout much of the state for a couple weeks, with some marshes in the north holding decent numbers of local-reared bluewings.

“We’ve been picking up a few birds here and there consistently over the last week and noted an increase earlier this week,” says IDNR property manager Kalli Dunn, based at Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area. “We will have a count this week, which will go up on the DNR website. Water conditions are steady, most units are full, and we are creating mud lines in several units. I am optimistic heading into the season.”