Migration Alert: Waterfowl Numbers Increasing in North Carolina

Nov. 12, 2020 – Atlantic Flyway – North Carolina

© Michael Furtman

Waterfowl season opened in the Tarheel State Saturday with reports of mixed success. Doug Howell, migratory game bird coordinator for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC), says, “Thus far, we haven’t seen any big push of puddle ducks or diving ducks from the reports I am getting. There are some wood ducks around, but they are likely locally hatched birds. Sea ducks, primarily black and surf scoters, have arrived in good numbers.”

Ethan Massey, Ducks Unlimited regional biologist for North Carolina, says he has heard reports of significant numbers of puddle ducks showing up along the Outer Banks in the last two weeks, especially on impoundments on Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).

Becky Bartel Harrison, supervisory wildlife biologist for Alligator River and Pea Island NWRs, confirms that observation.

“At Pea Island, we’ve already seen a lot of waterfowl in the impoundments. Northern pintails arrived the last week of October, and we observed more than 11,000 on the refuge,” Harrison says. “Those totals have dropped off as the birds moved through the area, but overall duck, goose and even coot totals have continued to increase.”

Not only are waterfowl numbers on the rise but species diversity seems to be increasing as well. Harrison says that observers on the refuges counted about 3,000 wigeon, 1,700 gadwalls, 1,100 black ducks, and 300 buffleheads. Divers are also showing up, with steadily increasing numbers of scaup, redheads, buffleheads, and ruddy ducks. 

Howell says he is also hearing reports of diving ducks arriving on Currituck, Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, which bodes well for hunters on these large water bodies.

Geese have yet to arrive in big numbers. Tundra swans, however, are settling in. Good numbers of the big white birds have arrived on Pungo Lake, Lake Mattamuskeet, and Pea Island NWRs.

Colder weather expected in the Midwest and north Atlantic region next week have gunners watching and waiting for more birds to arrive. Without question, the best is yet to come for North Carolina waterfowlers.