Migration Alert: Late-Season Lull Hits North Carolina

Jan. 4, 2018 – Atlantic Flyway – North Carolina

Photo © Michael Furtman

By Michael R. Shea, WF360 Atlantic Flyway Migration Editor 

Record-setting cold from the Canadian Maritime Provinces down to the Gulf Coast has locked much of the Atlantic Flyway in snow and ice, and North Carolina is no exception. Most small creeks and shallow waters across the Tar Heel State are frozen up, and the ducks have responded by moving onto the big rivers, reservoirs, and bays. 

By most reports, the cold weather has not brought a strong new push of birds, but the shooting has been reliable on the north coast around Pamlico Sound and along the Outer Banks, especial the inlets near Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, says outfitter Captain Froggy Thornton. 

“We’re seeing big diver numbers, with lots of redheads and bluebills, as well as pintails too,” Thornton says. “We’re fighting ice now and having to break out at all the ramps. It keeps a lot of hunters home.” 

Senior DU Regional Director Larry Wilkins says that due to the cold weather, waterfowl hunting in much of the state is in a lull. He hunted the Piedmont area on Monday and saw some new ducks, but not many.

“The divers have been very slow moving down. Normally, we’d have a lot of ringnecks, bluebills, redheads, and canvasbacks right about now, but I just haven’t seen a good push yet this year,” Wilkins says. “One of our lakes has only 400 to 500 cans on it, but that could change. They tend to just show up overnight.” 

With a big coastal storm expected to hit the East Coast Thursday and Friday, followed by an especially cold weekend, duck hunters can expect one of two possibilities. Birds could move ahead of the storm, and settle in the Carolinas if they find enough open water, or if the ice is bad enough, many birds could just bypass the state for points south.

“We’re usually begging for cold weather. We need warm weather now,” Wilkins says. 

That looks like it will happen early next week. Temperatures around Raleigh are expected to rise into the 50s during the day, but whether it’s too little, too late is anyone’s guess. 

If you’re hunting this weekend, look for big water. The smaller creeks and impoundments should open back up next week. And be careful out there!

Find and submit migration reports to the DU Migration Map.

Michael R. Shea is a New York–based freelance writer, who hunts waterfowl throughout the Atlantic Flyway. Shea will be providing habitat and hunting reports for the Atlantic Flyway during the 2016−2017 waterfowl season.