John's Journal...

Where Ducks Hide with Outdoor Writer John E. Phillips

Day 2: Knowing Ducks: What They Do and Why, and Where to Locate Them

Editor’s Note: If you’re tired of the competition and expenses involved when hunting on the big reservoirs and well-known duck marshes, here’s a surefire way to locate good duck hunting not too far from home by hunting smaller waters like potholes, beaver ponds and swamps.

Click for Larger ViewClick for Larger ViewTo get more information on ducks on what they do, why and where to locate them, I consulted Gary Moody, the chief of the Wildlife Section, and Keith McCutcheon and Dudley White, formerly wildlife biologists specializing in duck management for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. All three educated me on why the ducks do what they do, and I also found out how to locate more waterfowl hot spots.

Gary Moody began my education by telling me why ducks are attracted to such places, stating that, “Usually, ducks go to places like swamps, potholes and beaver ponds for food and a place of refuge. There is usually plenty to eat, because lots of natural food falls into the water from trees.”

The most-common duck in such places generally is the wood duck. Wood ducks prefer secluded freshwater swamps and ponds with wooded cover. Most southern wood ducks are home-grown. Some wood ducks do migrate, but the resident population in the South is large. When fall arrives, the home-grown ducks provide productive early-season duck hunting before migrating ducks come down from Canada. They also act as live decoys that attract the migrating birds.

Mallards, the most-common duck in the United States, and black ducks also frequently will inhabit these kinds of regions. Gary Moody says that studies have shown that mallards will winter almost any place where there’s food, and many southern ponds and swamps provide the aquatic foods the mallard and the black duck favor. If grain fields are nearby, more mallards will be present. Other ducks are often found on these secluded waters, but each species has different habitat and food requirements, and some areas answer these specific needs, while others don’t.

Click for Larger ViewClick for Larger ViewAccording to Keith McCutcheon, ducks use southern ponds and sloughs for four purposes – nesting, roosting, feeding and loafing. Some bodies of water provide all four, but others provide only three or fewer of the requirements. Nesting areas are important in this kind of small water hunting only insofar as wood ducks are concerned. These birds nest in tree cavities and lay their eggs in them, but after breeding is over, they roost in the same cavities. Lots of dead or dying trees are therefore one indication that many wood ducks may be present.

Ducks may feed in nearby grain fields, but if the pothole is deep in the woods, there should be plenty of mast for adult birds. In the South, ducks prefer white oak acorns, cypress seeds, hickory nuts and the mast from the tupelo and beech, the biologists told me. Although wood ducks particularly thrive on the seeds of free-floating aquatic plants, black ducks may feed on the leaves, stems and root stalks of the same plants, while mallards especially enjoy bulrushes. Good feeding areas generally have shallow water and a greater depth in the middle.

Why ducks select certain areas for daytime loafing hasn’t been scientifically determined, I was told, but the absence of predators and disturbance by human beings are probably the determining factors. One small body of water may be a very-popular daytime loafing area that the ducks leave only when they fly out in the evening for their end-of-the-day feeding. Then they retire to their roosting places. The wood ducks seek out their accustomed tree cavities, while black ducks and mallards may roost in their loafing areas or in another secure spot.

AmazonTo get John E. and Denise Phillips’ Kindle eBook, “The Best Wild Game & Seafood Cookbook Ever: 350 Southern Recipes for Deer, Turkey, Fish, Seafood Small Game and Birds,” click here. Or, go to, type in the names of the books, and download them to your Kindle, and/or download a Kindle app for your iPad, SmartPhone or computer.


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About the Author

John Phillips, winner of the 2012 Homer Circle Fishing Award for outstanding fishing writer by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA), the 2008 Crossbow Communicator of the year and the 2007 Legendary Communicator chosen for induction into the National Fresh Water Hall of Fame, is a freelance writer (over 6,000 magazine articles for about 100 magazines and several thousand newspaper columns published), magazine editor, photographer for print media as well as industry catalogues (over 25,000 photos published), lecturer, outdoor consultant, marketing consultant, book author and daily internet content provider with an overview of the outdoors. Click here for more information and a list of all the books available from John E. Phillips.

Tomorrow: Knowing the Best Shooting Times to Take Ducks

Check back each day this week for more about Where Ducks Hide with Outdoor Writer John E. Phillips"

Day 1: Hunting Ducks on Small Bodies of Water
Day 2: Knowing Ducks: What They Do and Why, and Where to Locate Them
Day 3: Knowing the Best Shooting Times to Take Ducks
Day 4: Using Aerial Maps and Topo Maps to Locate Duck Hot Spots
Day 5: Impacting Your Hunting Land’s Duck Potential and Types of Duck Hunting

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Entry 747, Day 2