Migration Alert: Kentucky Waterfowlers Enjoy Strong Bird Numbers

Dec. 23, 2021 – Kentucky

© Michael Furtman

Duck hunting in western Kentucky has been very good lately, but success has become centralized to one specific region over the last several days.

“Its really localized at Ballard Wildlife Management Area and Boatwright Wildlife Management Area, which are both in Ballard County,” says Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources Biologist Wes Little, who oversees the state’s waterfowl program.

While the rest of the region’s managed waterfowl areas lost ducks in the last week, Ballard County doubled theirs. The front slough along the loop road at Ballard WMA is considered a showplace and is currently packed full of ducks. After restoration work there last year and a strong crop of Walter’s millet this winter, “You couldnt pack another duck in there. Its been phenomenal,” Little reports.

The latest survey at Ballard WMA shows 27,000 ducks on the area. Down the road a few miles at Boatwright WMA, there are 12,500. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this many ducks at Ballard this early,” Little says. “Considering the warm year and the last couple years, those are big numbers. It’s right on par with what it historically would have been.”

Little also says that hunters on nearby private lands who pump water and provide food sources are seeing good numbers of ducks, and he’s heard many good hunting reports from both public and private properties.

Even better for greenhead hunters, Little reports, is the fact that at least 90 percent of the ducks in the area are mallards. “We’ve hit that transition where the mallards are starting to come in. We’re not at big numbers by any means, but it’s at least starting to look like the late ducks are arriving,” he says.

The situation elsewhere across western Kentucky varies but is much less productive for hunters. “Everybody else is seeing pretty miserable numbers at the moment,” Little says. “Overall, I think duck season has been a little slow for the rest of the state.” He notes that the Doug Travis WMA, farther south along the Mississippi River, has “not really seen big numbers yet, and they normally would see a lot of duck usage by now.” A few weeks ago, he says, there were large numbers of early migrants like teal, pintails, and northern shovelers around Kentucky and Barkley lakes, but they appear mostly to have moved elsewhere. “I’ve heard reports of people shooting limits of goldeneyes there, and I’ve heard miserable reports. I think it’s spotty and based on what you’re hunting. If youre chasing mallards, I think youre going to run into the same stale birds that have been hanging around.”

At the Sloughs WMA in Henderson County, Little reports “very consistent, decent numbers of ducks. The habitat is pretty dry, and the sloughs are a foot to 18 inches lower than we’d like to see them, but duck numbers have been good.”

What every waterfowl area needs, Little says, is more rainfall. “We got quite a bit of rain last weekend, but we’re still pretty dry even though those rains came. We need more than just that,” he says.

Rain is badly needed to bring up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, which supply water to many nearby wetland areas. “At most of our areas in western Kentucky, we do have the ability to kick some wells on and hold water, but if the river’s not high enough, we’re just dumping water on the ground,” Little says. “We need a consistent river because we’ve had to turn our pump off at Ballard a few times when the Ohio River got too shallow to draw from.”

Little is also hoping for a big change in the weather to bring more ducks to the state and, he hopes, spread the hunting success around. “We really need a good cold front,” he says, “and we’re still waiting on that magic north wind.”