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Duck migration ahead of schedule

October 29, 2008 at 02:28 PM

Strong northwest winds Sunday appear to have brought new ducks to Illinois.

Tuesday’s aerial surveys showed good numbers of ducks throughout much of Illinois and increased numbers of mallards.

That led Illinois waterfowl biologist Ray Marshalla to note the following:

My analysis of aerial surveys lends me to believe that migration is well ahead of normal with duck and mallard numbers higher than average in most areas and early migrant numbers already declining since last week on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. The large cold front with well below average temperatures and strong northwest winds since Sunday afternoon appeared to cause many ducks to head south. Based on the information below, hunters who are waiting until more ducks arrive to hunt might want to reconsider. The warm up that is occurring now however, should hold ducks here for awhile, especially on the Mississippi River. But the poor food conditions on the Illinois River may not hold them that long.The early migrants that depend on feeding mostly on moist-soil plant seeds in shallow water are more likely to leave than mallards that can feed in harvested cornfields and use the water primarily for resting and safety.

The Mississippi River duck numbers were 44% above average on Oct. 20 and 52% above average on Oct. 28.  Mallard numbers on the Mississippi River were 13% below average on Oct. 20 but 121% above average on Oct. 28. Early migrant puddle ducks (pintails, green winged teal, wigeon, gadwalls and shovelers) were 92% above average on Oct. 20 and only 4% above average on Oct. 28. The early migrant duck numbers decreased from 92,000 on Oct. 20 to 58,000 on Oct. 28 indicating that many have headed south of IIlinois already. The habitat conditions on the Mississippi River appear to be much better than on the Illinois River. 

The Illinois River duck numbers have been below average all fall but that is likely attributed more to poor food conditions caused by the summer floods than the chronology of migration. Illinois River duck numbers were 28% below average on Oct. 20 and 12% below average on Oct. 28. Mallard numbers on the Illinois River were 52% below average on Oct. 20 but 10% above average on Oct. 28. We did not have as many mallards as counted on Oct. 28, 2008 last year until Nov. 13. Early migrant puddle ducks were 2% above average on Oct. 20 but 36% below average on Oct. 28. The early migrant duck numbers decreased from 70,000 on Oct. 20 to 53,000 on Oct. 28. Studies of migration using radar by the Illinois Natural History survey indicated a large movement of ducks heading southeast from the Illinois River valley on Oct. 20. This likely included these early migrant puddle ducks and wood ducks as well which are not counted during surveys due to their use of wooded areas that cannot be easily seen from the air.

As Marshalla noted, the best counts are on the Mississippi River, where the census of 188,310 is well above the 10-year average of 123,753. And the count of 107,910 mallards is also well above average. Major concentrations are at Swan Lake (on the lower river) where 52,190 birds were counted, at Dardenne (37,650) and Cannon Refuge (34,460). Here’s the complete count:


The Illinois River census of 163,805 was improved but still below the 10-year average of 185,273 ducks. That includes 48,790 ducks at The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve (which has also been holding more than 40,000 coots).


Finally, the southern Illinois count of 44,200 ducks is well above the average of 16,530. Of those birds, 15,200 are at Carlyle Lake.

Not that it matters to southern Illinois waterfowlers.Their season does not open until Thursday, Nov. 27.


Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

This has to be the latest opener for the Southern Zone that I know of. I remember when we use to open years ago as early as Nov 8 not the last 3 days of November. How ridiculous! It’s interesting to note that since the “acting” director Mr. Flood has been in charge, our opening day has been pushed back to Thanksgiving. This has really screwed up good hunting (especially for Wood ducks)for much of the southern zone EXCEPT for the big commercial clubs down in the old Quota zone. Ya think there’s any correlation? That’s why good biologists like Marshalla and NOT ignorant,greedy politicians should running the IDNR and setting our seasons !

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 10/29 at 10:39 PM

I agree with Craig, Duck are here Carlye and Rend and we dont open for 28 more day.. Money talks not comman sence…..

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 10/31 at 01:34 PM

I like how the Illinois Waterfowl Digest for the 08-09 season talks about how the majority of hunters surveyed about the opening day of duck season were in favor of the later start.  I myself would prefer the earlier start as to avoid all the ice in late January.  I don’t think I’ve talked to any hunters that really liked the late opener.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 10/31 at 02:26 PM

i like the thanksgiving day opener it good for deer hunters/duck hunter

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/01 at 08:02 PM

jay, I can understand not wanting the duck season to open the same time as 1st shotgun season for deer. They tried that before and it was a disaster. I still don’t understand why we can’t open duck season for the southern zone 1 or 2 weeks before deer season, other than politics instead of sound biology makes the rules here. It’s sad to see states such as Louisiana open their season 12 days before we do.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/02 at 09:13 PM

Rend lake today cover up with ducks, still 19 more days to go. that sucks…

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/08 at 06:32 PM

any new changes at rend as far as the draws are conserned? no stakes at dareville? how did youth hunt go there?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/20 at 03:57 PM

Orient Il.< First two days of season brought great results. Third day out and the birds dropped dramatically. Very few Green heads have been taken. A Few Teal. I think one Wood Duck has been harvested. We’ll see what the freeze up north brings down here. I hope it get’s better.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 12/01 at 11:08 AM

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