Migration Alert: Mass Exodus of Waterfowl from Prairie Canada as Winter Storm Barrels into US

Nov. 9, 2022 – Central and Mississippi Flyways

© Michael Furtman

Frigid temperatures and snowfall are in the forecast across northern portions of the Central and Mississippi Flyways, prompting a mass exodus of waterfowl from Prairie Canada and portions of the Dakotas. A migration that began as a trickle and has recently picked up at a slow and steady pace may soon be forced into overdrive by the fierce winter storm.

“This weather system pushing south will certainly trigger additional migratory movements,” says Dr. Mike Brasher, DU senior waterfowl scientist. “As we look at the snowfall and temperatures across the Great Plains, Upper Midwest, and even into the mid-latitude portions of the Central and Mississippi Flyways, this timely cold front is something duck and goose hunters should be paying attention to.”

The Canadian Prairies remained warmer than average throughout much of the fall, but bitter cold temperatures have finally set in around Saskatoon, with nightly lows falling into the single digits for the first time this season, and the current 10-day forecast doesn’t have the mercury pushing above the teens. Most, if not all, bodies of water will freeze, forcing even the hardiest waterfowl species to head south.

“I would say, overall, the pace of the migration has been relatively slow this fall,” reports Aiden Bateman, DU Canada conservation programs specialist in Wadena, Saskatchewan. “We had a warm fall, and we didn’t get any freezing weather until late October. From what I saw during my time hunting, I would say most birds hadn’t left the north because of the warm weather. That has changed, and most of the birds have moved through very quickly.”

Wetland-feeding species like gadwalls and green-winged teal tend to get pushed south a little earlier due to limited food resources. Most of these species have migrated south, leaving only field-feeding ducks and geese.

“By the end of this week, most waterfowl will have left the parkland region of Saskatchewan,” Bateman says. “All of the small potholes are frozen and most larger waterbodies will be soon, considering that we will have negative double-digit lows at night this week.”

That is all good news for US waterfowlers who have been anticipating the migration. With warmer than average temperatures in the Dakotas this fall, hunters who have been asking for colder weather are about to get it.

“Due to the warm weather, the migration was negligible through Halloween except for cranes and white-fronted geese. However, we began to see mass migrations of snow geese and ducks starting last Sunday,” reports Jonas Davis, DU director of conservation programs in the Dakotas and Montana. “Starting this Thursday, we are expected to receive one foot of snow with blizzard conditions through Friday and lows in the single digits for the next week. I suspect most of the new arrivals we are seeing will be headed south in the coming days.”

Hunters in mid-latitude states and the South should be making final preparations for the arrival of the fall flight. With luck, wintry conditions will continue as fall progresses.

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