Duck season in Minnesota ended Nov. 23 and most ducks were either long gone in search of warmer climes or still on the northern plains, which were snowless until Thanksgiving weekend.
"Highly unusual for this time of year," said Jeff Nelson, director of Ducks Unlimited's Great Plains regional office. "As late as the third week in November we had 60-degree days and clear skies. There was no snow even as far as central Saskatchewan. There was plenty of food for the birds and lots of mallards, divers, swans and geese around central North Dakota."
Paul Bultsma, regional biologist for DU, talked to a farmer in Manitoba who said that in 40 years of farming he had never seen so many mallards so late.
"He said every wetland and stubble field was black with ducks in his area 20 miles north of the Peace Gardens," Bultsma said. "The weather was mild, they had a lot of rain and there was plenty of grain to eat."
Weather on the northern plains changed over Thanksgiving weekend. Temperatures dropped and snow fell, making hunters down south thankful.
"We need a good cold front to push the migration farther south," said Ken Babcock, director of DU's southern regional office. "Without snow and ice on the prairies, those birds weren't going anywhere."
Mallards and Canada geese, among the hardiest of waterfowl, can take very cold weather. They will remain up north after freeze-up if they have access to some open water and food. Once the birds head south they'll find plenty of good habitat to rest and spend the winter.
"Habitat conditions across much of the south look good," says Chad Manlove, manager of conservation programs for DU's southern region. "Timely rains have provided optimal wetland conditions for wintering waterfowl and duck hunters."
Biologists with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said aerial waterfowl surveys show that wetlands across the state are better than last year. According to Andrew James, AGFC's waterfowl program coordinator, Arkansas' survey results are much higher than in 2003 but still well below the 20-year average. Louisiana's counts are below average, leading to the conclusion that many ducks that traditionally continue on to Louisiana have found suitable habitat in Arkansas and stopped there.
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