Waterfowl Migration, Hunting Conditions Shift with Weather

By Nick Simonson


With the changing weather spurring snow and coveralls one day and t-shirts and grilling just 72 hours later, waterfowl are moving into and out of North Dakota in fits and starts to match the conditions, and wet settings across the map are presenting a variety of opportunities for hunters and places for ducks and geese to rest whether they’re residents or migrators coming in from the north.  Dane Buysse, Conservation Programs Biologist with Ducks Unlimited is on top of all the action and watching the skies this time of year, as waterfowl wing their way through the autumn air.  Despite the erratic shifts in temperature and wind, opportunities abound throughout the Peace Garden State for some of the season’s most sought-after waterfowl species.

On The Move
The snow and cold weather have kicked migration of some species in North Dakota into high gear, basically finishing off what remained of the resident blue-winged teal population, according to Buysse.  Meanwhile, in places like Devils Lake which received nearly 30 inches of snow with last weekend’s storm, the accumulations are putting the stop on some birds’ travels including mallards and Canada geese.

“They are still holding some birds there [around Devils Lake], some mallards and snow geese are moving into the area, and so some of those puddler ducks – your gadwall, wigeon and blue-winged teal – those are starting to move out a little bit,” Buysse commented, “up in the central part of the state north of Bismarck, they’re seeing some snow geese actually show up which is quite a bit sooner than it would typically be,” he added.

Moreover, good populations of mallards and Canada geese remain in the southeastern part of the state, and in the western third of the state, where less snow fell, birds are still moving through with regularity according to Buysse.  Hunters should be prepared for varied species, but plenty of opportunities with the amount of huntable water on the landscape.  Some challenges exist, including unharvested fields which are wet and holding birds in places which cannot be hunted.


A flock of Canada geese rises from feeding in a cut wheat field in central ND.  Good hunting for honkers continues throughout the state. Simonson Photo. 

Out of the Rut
While the standing water resulting from recent rains and the melting occurring this week has created potholes and puddles which are big enough for migrating flocks of waterfowl to land in and for hunters to set up on, Buysse advises that it has also created a sort of double-edged sword for sportsmen.  Where traditional hunting haunts have expanded, those rising waters have sometimes claimed the only access points to them as nearby roads and trails have ended up underwater, making getting to favorite areas on sloughs, ponds and small lakes and their adjacent cover more difficult.

“One thing that is common across the state is that the roads are very wet, so some of the areas you’d typically go to, even in some cases the roads are flooded, so you can’t get to them,” Buysse suggested, “so one thing you want to be careful of when you’re out there is road conditions and just being respectful of the roads that are out there because there’s a lot of producers that live on the landscape and they have to drive on these roads too,” he concluded.

An App for That
Online and via the Ducks Unlimited Application, the organization’s Migration Map program utilizes a membership network of tens of thousands of hunters who are out in the field this time of year.  Including data categories such as species, general numbers of waterfowl observed, weather conditions and inbound or outbound movement of the birds seen, the program helps hunters think locally but understand the migration on a national scale as well.  Once downloaded, hunters can review reports on their phone or via the DU website (ducks.org) and even leave their own entries, detailing their hunting experience and what they’re seeing in the field.

“This really is quite a unique tool,” Buysse explained, “if you want to look at the Canadian provinces where some of the birds are coming from, you can get a good idea of what bird numbers are going to look like in the coming weeks,” he detailed as he went through the reports from Canada, North Dakota and surrounding states.

With the opening of non-resident access to North Dakota’s Private Land Open to Sportsmen (PLOTS) acres and Wildlife Management Areas on Sat. Oct. 19 after their closure to visiting hunters in the prior week, an uptick in sportsmen use is expected this weekend.  For more information on the state’s waterfowl seasons and regulations, visit gf.nd.gov/hunting.  To learn more about Ducks Unlimited, its habitat work in North Dakota and throughout the country, visit ducks.org and check out the Migration Map page at: ducks.org/migrationmap.


Featured Photo: Creeping Up.  Swollen with recent rains and meltwater, a slough near Regan ND extends into its surrounding upland grasses. Simonson Photo. 


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