Illinois hunting and fishing

Green-winged teal have been the most numerous ducks on Lake Chautauqua recently. Photos by Chris Young.

Duck numbers continue to climb at Lake Chautauqua

November 19, 2011 at 09:10 PM

Ducks, mostly green-winged teal, were feeding furiously at the Chautauqua National WIldlife Refuge near Havana this week as if they were in a race with one another.

“I think a lot of it is that real fine nutsedge seed,” said Lee Albright, manager of the Illinois National Wildlife and Fish Refuges Complex. “And they may be finding some invertebrates, too.”

Birds were so intent on feeding that it seemed unlikely they would notice visitors watching them.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Illinois hunting and fishing

Ducks feed (above) and a juvenile bald eagle patrols for injured birds.

But bald eagles and other birds of prey in the area were intent on keeping the ducks on the alert.

Eagles routinely swooped low enough to make the ducks take flight.

The aerial survey conducted Nov.15 by Aaron Yetter of the Illinois Natural History Survey found 16,700 green-winged teal, 5,700 gadwall and 6,710 mallards.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Mallards feed around clumps of nutsedge, wetland plants that produce seed for migrating waterfowl.

The total number of ducks using Chautauqua was 31,360, up from about 12,000 two weeks ago and way up from 1,400 ducks on both the north and south pools of Lake Chautauqua last year at this time.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Ducks take flight from the north pool of Lake Chautauqua.

“Green-winged teal like it when the water is so shallow that they can stand up - just an inch or two deep with lots of vegetation,” said Randy Smith, a waterfowl biologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey. “That is just prefect for them.”

Smith’s office at the Forbes Biological Station is just across Quiver Creek from Lake Chautauqua.

While the teal are hanging around to take advantage of available food, other early migrating ducks like pintails are moving out.

About 1,100 pintails were left.

Overall the Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge and Emiquon National Refuge managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service together with The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve were holding 86,355 ducks.

That’s more than half of all the 159,645 ducks counted at 16 sites on the Lower Mississippi River Valley south of Peoria.