2019 Waterfowl Migration: More Geese Than Ducks

Duck hunters in the Southeast suffered through a tough season in 2018. So far in 2019 things aren't much better according to waterfowl migration reports from one major destination state.

2019 Waterfowl Migration: More Geese Than Ducks

Observers with the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission report more geese, such as these specklebelly geese, in the state than ducks. (Photo: AGFC)

Waterfowl hunters in the Southeast know that quite often, if things are tough in Arkansas they'll be tough throughout the region.

That's proving to be true this season. Heavy rain in the region creating flooding conditions has helped spread what ducks have migrated. And with no seriously hard freezes or icy, snowy weather in the middle of the Mississippi Flyway, ducks aren't moving all the way south. They don't have to. When they leave northern states heading south and find food and open water, they'll plop down. Whether that's Missouri, Arkansas or on south into Louisiana is dependent mostly on the weather.

Likewise, when the rivers, creeks and fields in Arkansas are full of water or flooded, ducks don't have to leave to find food. A hard freeze in Arkansas usually is good for hunters in northern Mississippi and Alabama, and southern Arkansas and Louisiana. The birds head south and east, mostly, to find favorable conditions.

This year, it seems the migration's mediocre in Arkansas and the Southeast. More geese are showing up in Arkansas, according to the state wildlife agency, and that means duck hunters are wondering what the heck's going on. They're getting a few ducks but for now it looks like 2019-20 isn't going to go down as a whiz-bang banner season.

Here's the latest observation report from the Arkansas Game & Fish Division:

Geese numbers topped ducks in Arkansas's delta region in the latest aerial survey count by Arkansas Game and Fish Commission waterfowl biologists.

Observers J.J. Abernathy, Jason Carbaugh, Jason "Buck" Jackson and Alex Zachary estimated nearly 1 million light (lesser snow and Ross’s) geese and about 158,000 greater white-fronted geese in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (the Delta). By comparison, the observers estimated 898,656 total ducks in the Delta, exactly half of which were mallards (447,083). Duck population estimates in the Arkansas River Valley totaled just over 20,000, including 11,000 mallards.

The Delta mallard population estimate was much lower than the 2009-19 long-term December average of more than 650,000. Similarly, total duck population estimates fell well below the long-term average of over 1.2 million. However, mallards typically make up about 56 percent of all ducks during December surveys, and this month’s mallard percentage was only slightly lower than this long-term average. Observers saw more than half of the mallards in the Delta in the Cache, Black-Upper White and Little River survey zones and, like in November, many of these ducks were in the northern portions of these zones.

Mallard hot spots were limited to portions of southern Jackson and western Craighead Counties along with Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Big Lake Wildlife Management Area.

Estimates for all ducks and mallards in the Arkansas River Valley were slightly lower than normal and about average, with the highest mallard and total duck estimates in the West Dardanelle, Petit Jean and Point Remove-Plumerville survey zones. 

"Generally, ducks were not widely scattered across the landscape," said Luke Naylor, the AGFC's waterfowl program coordinator. "The north Delta had relatively more habitat than portions of the Delta farther south, but overall habitat availability – that is, flooding – appeared somewhat limited. Habitat conditions also were declining in the Arkansas River Valley before and during the survey period."

Naylor said most ducks appeared to be concentrated on waterfowl rest areas, private agricultural reservoirs (without noticeable hunting blinds), and moist-soil habitats during the December survey. "Observers, particularly in the north Delta, noticed a few fields here and there that did not get planted this spring that experienced a substantial moist-soil plant response. A fair number of ducks were using these fields during this survey, partly because this is a desired habitat type and partly because some of these areas did not have blinds or pits; thus they likely are serving as unmanaged sanctuaries.

"The concentrations of ducks on rest areas or non-hunted fields was again noticeable and almost certainly are a reflection of widespread hunting pressure." For instance, observers noted a fair number of ducks in the Bradford Bottoms area, where large fields were flooded with water across gravel roads, limiting access and likely reducing hunting pressure. Even though most Delta mallards with north of U.S. Highway 64 in the Delta, even there many flooded fields did not have any ducks. This was true in the central Delta as well, where less “casual” sheet water was present and most managed habitats were providing hunting opportunity but hosting few ducks.  

AGFC staff will conduct the annual midwinter waterfowl survey the week of Jan. 6.

Check out the current habitat conditions for the AGFC's managed areas for waterfowl (all conditions were reported as of Monday, Dec. 23; real-time water levels are available through the USGS for George H. Dunklin Bayou Meto WMA, follow the water gauge link listed for the WMA):


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