Migration Alert: Influx of Ducks into North Carolina is Good News for Opener

Nov. 16, 2022 – Atlantic Flyway – North Carolina

© Michael Furtman

North Carolina duck hunters apparently benefited from an influx of birds just in time for the state’s brief late-October season. Doug Howell, migratory game bird coordinator for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, reports, “Our Oct. 28-29 season provided hunters with a variety of ducks to shoot. So, we had a good push of puddle ducks in late October on the coast. That should only get better as we open our next split on Saturday.”

Howell says sea ducks also began pushing into the state early last week. Few Canada geese migrate as far south as North Carolina, and those geese that do make wing their way to the Tarheel State are still somewhere to the north, he added.

The extensive Alligator River and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Complex often serves as a barometer for when certain species of waterfowl arrive in the region. Becky Harrison, supervisory wildlife biologist there, says the pace of the migration is continuing to ramp up. Further inland, however, dry conditions have limited habitat and bird numbers thus far.

“We saw our first tundra swans and a single snow goose last week,” Harrison says. “We have lots of pintails−greater than 10,000 in our impoundments−with good numbers of wigeon, gadwalls, and black ducks. There are fewer teal than I would expect. We’re also starting to see a handful of scaup, ruddy ducks, and shovelers.”

Ethan Massey, DU regional biologist for North Carolina, says the tundra swan observations are right in line with expectations, as the big white birds usually arrive around Veterans Day. He credits the habitat quality in the impoundments at both Mattamuskeet and Pea Island NWR with pulling in ducks, noting he is hearing reports of pintails, wigeon, and gadwalls in the area.

While the state got a little relief from recent rains, the persistent dry conditions over much of the year have created problems for those seeking to flood impoundments on both public and private land. 

Looking at the extended forecast, cold temperatures and heavy snow could blanket the northern portions of the Atlantic Flyway within the coming weeks. That’s good news for North Carolina waterfowlers who have enough water to float decoys.

“It is very dry here, so any water will likely concentrate ducks, particularly in swamps,” Howell says.

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