John's Journal...


What Ducks Unlimited Thinks

EDITOR’S NOTE: Everyone in the South has asked the question the last few years, what's happened to the ducks? The number of ducks coming down the Central Flyway seems to have vastly decreased, but why? Even when the ducks do come down the flyway, they only show up during the last two or three weeks of the season, or well after the season ends. Too, why has Canada experienced record numbers of ducks while the Central Flyway has had a duck drought? This week we’ll try to answer some of your questions by talking with the experts in the duck business.

Click to enlarge“I wish there was a single factor that helped explain the variations regarding this issue, but that's not the case,” Chad Manlove, a biologist for DU located in Ridgeland, Mississippi, says. “Most southern duck hunters experienced a below-average duck season last year. Many cited that the birds never showed up or showed up right after the season had ended in late January. Many hunters wanted to know, ‘Where were the ducks?’ Waterfowl migration is a complex topic that involves a combination of likely factors, including…

* “increased breeding. Breeding populations experienced a slight increase in May 2003, due to late rain events in the breeding grounds. However, overall estimates were still 20-percent below what was experienced in the late 1990s. Waterfowl populations always have been very cyclical due to wetland and grassland conditions on the prairies. The bottom line is we had 20-percent fewer ducks to start with when compared to duck populations in the late 1990s.

Click to enlarge* “weather patterns. The U.S. experienced some very-mild weather for the last three years with temperatures above average in November and December for many states in the Central and Mississippi Flyways. Also, northern and mid-latitude states had mild weather through December. There was very-little snow and ice at northern extremes. If the birds, especially mallards, could find food and water with minimal disturbance, then there was no reason to migrate any further south. Generally snow would cover available waste grain in harvested agricultural fields throughout the flyway and frozen water supplies would force birds to migrate further south. The combination of snow and ice was absent throughout much of duck season last year. A snowstorm finally hit the mid-latitude states three days before duck season ended.

* “dry wintering grounds throughout last year. The Mississippi Alluvial Valley had below-average precipitation. Habitat conditions were fair to poor for the first half of duck season. Under dry conditions, migrating ducks usually would move through the area and end up on the Gulf Coast. Then the Mississippi Alluvial Valley finally received good levels of precipitation about the second week of January, and habitat conditions improved.

Click to enlarge* “increased level of hunting pressure. In southern states, duck-hunter numbers have nearly doubled since 1990. With liberal season lengths and daily bag limits, many individuals have decided to pursue duck hunting during winter months. Birds quickly will adapt and seek sanctuary and refuge areas so they can rest during the day. At night, the birds will fly and seek foraging opportunities on private lands.”

To learn more about ducks, their nesting habitat and their migration, you can go to the DU website, or; or (601) 956-1936, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at; or call (800) 344-WILD. For more information about ducks in each state, visit


Check back each day this week for more about WHY DUCKS HAVEN’T COME DOWN THE CENTRAL FLYWAY...

Day 1 - What Does the Duck Problem Involve?
Day 2 - What Ducks Unlimited Thinks
Day 3 - Talks with State Biologists about Duck Season
Day 4 - What Avid Waterfowlers and Guides Think
Day 5 - More Duck-Hunting Guides and Avid Waterfowlers Speak


Entry 286, Day 2