Migration Alert: Good Habitat, Early Duck Numbers Have North Carolina Hunters Optimistic

Nov. 9, 2018 – Atlantic Flyway – North Carolina

© Michael Furtman

By Ken Perrotte, South Atlantic Flyway Migration Editor

Early migrating species should be enough to keep hunters busy throughout the first few weeks of North Carolina’s waterfowl season. The northern Atlantic Flyway has yet to receive enough cold weather to persuade many ducks and geese to move south. Fortunately, hunters may not have to wait long for that to occur.

Doug Howell, migratory game bird program coordinator with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, reports that large numbers of wood ducks as well as some pintails and other dabblers are beginning to show up in the state.

“Many of our waterfowl—like wood ducks, teal, and tundra swans—are “calendar” migrants, meaning their migration is not primarily affected by weather patterns,” Howell says. “Their migration is predictable, with pushes in mid-November and again in early December. Others, such as mallards, diving ducks, and Canada geese, are more affected by weather and will hang out up north until cold fronts force them south.”

Howell anticipates that more migrating waterfowl will arrive soon in the Tarheel State. “I expect the migration to pick up around Veterans Day, which is the time we usually see a big push of ducks and the tundra swans begin to arrive,” he explains.

DU regional biologist Clay Shipes is also eagerly awaiting some brisk weather to the north to bring in more birds. “While the Central Flyway has seen some good frontal passages, the East Coast hasn’t had any major cold fronts yet. Once we get a couple major weather events, we should see more ducks moving south,” he says.

Mike Marsh, a Wilmington-based avid waterfowler, reports that he is also seeing lots of wood ducks as well as teal. Plus, he has heard that the northeastern part of the state already has good numbers of ducks at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

“Fifteen-plus species of waterfowl were detected this week, including larger groups of northern pintails, American black ducks, and American wigeon,” says Becky Bartel Harrison, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s supervisory wildlife biologist for Alligator River and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuges. “We also recently observed first occurrences of mergansers, tundra swans, snow geese, and redheads.”

North Carolina suffered considerable damage from Hurricane Florence in mid-September. The storm caused intense flooding throughout the state.

“Here in northeastern North Carolina, early fall storms and hurricanes have resulted in some localized flooding. The Roanoke River is at flood stage, submerging various waterfowl food sources. On the refuges, we’ve been busy managing impoundments for moist-soil plants and submerged aquatic vegetation,” Harrison reports.

That vegetation is looking good. Harrison explains that fall surveys of submerged aquatic vegetation showed a good distribution of muskgrass, sago pondweed, and some wigeon grass in the ponds. Planted rice responded well during this exceptionally wet year. She added that 22 different species of waterfowl were recorded at the refuge last winter, with a peak observation of over 31,000 birds.

As far as impacts on habitat from Hurricanes Florence and Michael, Howell says that some privately managed wetlands on the coast were damaged by the recent storms, but habitat is in good condition otherwise. “In terms of waterfowl habitat, I’m not concerned about the effects of the hurricanes on North Carolina ducks,” he says.

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Ken Perrotte is a freelance writer and editor based in Virginia’s Northern Neck who hunts waterfowl throughout the Mid-Atlantic. Perrotte will be providing habitat and hunting reports for the Altantic Flyway throughout the 2018-2019 waterfowl season.