John's Journal...


Talks with State Biologists about Duck Season

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.


Andrew James, a waterfowl program coordinator with the Arkansas Game and Fish Division, explains that, “The ducks weren't late, they just didn't show up at all in Arkansas this past season. Although we did have a big push of ducks the week before the season started, we also were accustomed to seeing large waves of ducks later in the season, which we didn’t have this year. I believe we didn’t see big waves of ducks because the weather never got that cold down through southern Illinois. Lakes in southern Illinois didn’t freeze last year, so the habitat was open. If the water is open, and the ducks have good access to feeding locations, they won't go any farther south than they have to fly.”

Click to enlargeKentucky

Kentucky’s Migratory Bird Program Coordinator for the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Rocky Pritchert, sums up the reason the ducks didn’t come down the flyway last season as the weather. “Kentucky is a migration state with birds passing through on their way north and south,” Pritchert says. “When the bird’s migration peak varies in any way, it affects how long birds will linger in Kentucky. We don’t see many birds until the rivers and reservoirs north of us freeze. Weather patterns in Kentucky during the 2003/2004 season were like a roller coaster. One-week temperatures were below normal, and the next week they were above normal. A major freeze didn’t occur until mid-to-late January. Then, Kentucky duck numbers increased above the most-recent 5-year average, but since the season was almost over, many hunters had already hung up their gear.”


Waterfowl Program Manager for Louisiana’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, Robert Helm, considers the reason ducks didn’t come down the flyway as a combination of several factors. “One of the biggest factors was the weather,” Helm explains. “The weather in much of the midwestern states was very mild the last three winters. If we’d had a 6-inch snow in the Midwest, which would have made corn unavailable to the ducks, the ducks would have come down the flyway. But because of the mild weather, the corn was available all winter. Other factors included…

  • “no-till farming.
  • “fewer ducks produced for the last three years. Reduced production of young birds, meant plenty of adult ducks in the fall flight, which were more difficult to hunt, because they’d experienced hunters’ tactics before.
  • “earlier hunting seasons in the North. Hunting season has been allowed earlier within the northern states, so the harvest for the northern states has increased in recent years. Northern hunters may be taking a higher number of younger birds, and within a flight of ducks that come south there may be more adults.
  • “spinning-wing decoys. These decoys also may affect the harvest patterns of some of the northern states, since the decoys seem to be more effective there.
  • “increased hunting pressure in some areas, which also moves ducks out of certain regions.”

Click to enlargeMississippi

Richard Wells, a waterfowl coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, feels that, “Ducks haven’t come down the Central Flyway because of warm-weather patterns within the last two or three winters, which has caused the birds to hang up in the mid-latitude states. Some northern states have had very good hunting. If the habitat remains after the hunting season has closed, birds aren't pressured or hunted, and they still have plenty of food and water, so why fly south when they've got what they need? If no freezes occur above the head of the Missouri River, then the ducks have nothing to push them outside the region were they are.”


The Missouri Department of Conservation’s Resource Scientist, Dave Graber, notes that, “We've got what you call, global warming or climate change. We are in a time of warmer-than-average winters, and in Missouri, we usually have freeze-ups by the second or third week of December. In 2001 and 2002, we had freeze-ups but not like the classic freeze-ups that stay that way. There’s been plenty of open water almost every year for the last few years in the winter. Missouri has ducks all winter long. In the mid-winter surveys, except for 2000, which was really cold, we've seen more than the average number of ducks each year. This last year, it seemed like it was colder early in the season. In December, there were two periods of 4 to 6 inches of snow, so several ducks from the North flew here. Then the weather warmed back up. By late December, we had open water again, and the ducks never left Missouri. We also had a cold period in northwest Missouri in early January. I would have thought this colder weather would have moved quite a few ducks.”

Click to enlargeTo 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 3