Migration Alert: Waterfowl Numbers Build Across Prairie Canada

Oct. 8, 2020 – Prairie Canada

© Michael Furtman

Concentrations of ducks and geese are building across the prairies of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, where the birds are taking advantage of ample food resources and receiving little hunting pressure. Those numbers look to continue to increase in the coming weeks until cold and snow force waterfowl to migrate south.

The fall migration across Prairie Canada is generally moving at a normal pace, says Scott Stephens, director of regional operations for Ducks Unlimited Canada in Stonewall, Manitoba.

“Most blue-winged teal have headed south, sandhill crane numbers are waning, and I would expect some other ‘calendar’ migrants like canvasbacks to begin migrating out of Prairie Canada shortly. But we haven’t had any weather conditions that would spur additional movements of birds out of this region,” Stephens says.

He recently spent time hunting in southern Saskatchewan, where he saw increasing numbers of snow geese, small Canada geese, and white-fronted geese. While the goose numbers were encouraging, he did take note of the age ratios of the birds they harvested.

“Over the course of a week, a buddy and I harvested 30 whitefronts, and of those only four were juvenile birds, which is unusually low,” Stephens says. “This suggests that production was poor across many Arctic breeding areas for geese.”

Wetland conditions were another cause for concern, Stephens says. Large areas of harvested peas and other favorite food resources were basically void of ducks and other waterfowl because water levels were so low. Looking forward, these conditions could reduce the availability of breeding habitat in the spring.

“Across much of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the semi-permanent wetlands are dry or nearly dry,” he says. “We will need to see high soil moisture at freeze-up and lots of snow to change that for next spring.”

Wetland conditions are somewhat better in Alberta, reports Ron Maher, manager of provincial operations for Ducks Unlimited Canada in Calgary, where waterfowl numbers are building as well.

“Wetland habitat for staging and migrating birds is generally good and the crop harvest is well under way,” Maher says. “The ducks and geese are really just starting to congregate in larger numbers.”

Maher adds that the lack of hunters from the United States due to travel restrictions related to COVID-19 is noticeable. The hunting reports he has received from resident hunters are generally positive.

Stephens also notes the lack of hunting pressure and believes that it could impact the timing of the migration of birds out of Canada this fall.

“I’ll admit that there was discussion early on about the border being closed to American hunters and questions about the impact of that on hunting pressure and migration that I thought was overblown at first,” Stephens says. “However, while in Saskatchewan I encountered no other hunters on the landscapes I spent time in. There was zero pressure out there, so the birds were completely undisturbed.

“I believe this could impact the migration for snow geese, mallards, and Canada geese if mild weather persists. I expect that it will take sustained freezing temperatures and snow to move substantial numbers of mallards and geese south as hunting pressure is very light across Prairie Canada.”