Missouri Waterfowl and Habitat Survey

Coordinated statewide surveys of Conservation Area wetlands and National Wildlife Refuges are conducted approximately every other week during the waterfowl season. They are normally conducted on Mondays, weather permitting, and reported on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

Comments of: 2016-10-19

Compiled by Frank Nelson
We are living in unprecedented times with record duck and goose populations, a string of 20 years of 60-day duck seasons, and goose seasons lasting longer and later than we have ever seen. Let’s take a look to see how conditions are shaping up prior to the opening of Missouri’s duck hunting.

This summer was unseasonably wet with scattered dry spells in between. After a wet May, June was the 15th driest in 122 years. After that, July and August were the second wettest summer months in more than a century. September continued to flip-flop by starting out wet and ending rather dry. These conditions during the growing season created the perfect scenario for wetlands across the state to produce a bumper crop of annual moist-soil seeds. Many wetlands will likely produce more than 2,000 pounds of seeds per acre, providing food for many species of waterfowl and habitat for a variety of other wetland dependent species. In contrast, this highly variable weather couldn’t have been worse for corn planted on public and private areas for waterfowl hunting. It resulted in complete or substantial losses in many low lying locations. Even in higher and drier locations harvested crops may have experienced weather related impacts. September’s moisture and warmth may have encouraged sprouting of waste grain in harvested fields, which could reduce the amount of winter forage available in the fields later in winter. As October has progressed heavy rains have caused flooding along the Marmaton, Osage, and Black Rivers. This has caused bottomland habitats to become flooded too deep too fast early in the season making a lot of the food unavailable before the season gets started.

Although waterfowl numbers look good, hunters should keep in mind that waterfowl hunting in Missouri is influenced by the combination of habitat conditions, weather, and the timing of migrations more than overall duck and goose numbers.

Last year the big story throughout the fall and winter was the strong El Nino that created unseasonably warm conditions across much of the country. For Missouri, it resulted in warm and wet weather throughout November and December. Weather forecasters indicate that this year will be different, but how different is yet to be seen. Although warm waters in the Pacific have lingered from last year’s El Nino, conditions are changing and meteorologists are trying to determine if the result will be fairly neutral or develop into weak La Nina. This uncertainty translates into a murky picture of what we can expect for winter weather. Some forecasts are predicting colder blasts across the Prairie Pothole region. This could provide significant flight days of ducks arriving to more southerly locations like Missouri. Other forecasts indicate milder conditions with near or above average temperatures. Being a mid-latitude state, Missouri always seems to be on the dividing line for these continental weather systems and we typically just have to wait and see what happens. The one thing you can be sure of is that this year will definitely be different from the last.

At the start of the early teal season in September, a cold front moved across the Midwest and an influx of blue-winged teal were observed on several managed wetland areas just in time for the short, early season. When managers checked again at the beginning of the October, over half of the birds scattered about Missouri were still early migrating teal that were filtering through. Northern pintails, another early migrant, were the second most abundant species in Missouri. The first week of October is the “normal” time for the first frost of the fall in the upper Midwest. Things went according to plan in the Dakotas and Minnesota as they witnessed their first freezing temperatures and snow fell across Montana and parts of Saskatchewan. Here in Missouri, we felt cool winds sweeping through Missouri on Oct 5-7th. As a result of this front the abundance of pintail doubled the total amount of ducks in the state and flipped the percentages to forty-eight percent northern pintails and thirty-six percent teal. On October the 12th through 14th a strong front brought brisk winds, clouds, and colder temperatures briefly to the state. Observations of white-fronted geese flying overhead or temporarily stopping over were noted by several biologists during this time. Reports of the arrival of a few gadwall also came in. This week the overall percentages are the same with pintail, blue-winged teal, and green-winged teal being the most abundant. However, gadwalls now represent seven percent of the total. Shovelers and mallards have remained around two to three percent of the total ducks for the first three weeks of October.

Waterfowl migrations always start slow in October and begin to pick up as November progresses. This slow trend is especially true when weather conditions are mild. With this week’s record breaking highs, we have to temper our expectations for the upcoming season and not be surprised by a relatively low number of ducks in the state. The current total is approximately 82,008 ducks on publicly managed wetlands. This is lower than the 5 year average of 108,055 birds. Last year at this time we were right on track with the average.

Temperatures will begin to cool off this Wednesday and Thursday. The soil moisture across much of Missouri is adequate and primed to hold water in Missouri’s floodplain basins and impoundments. We’ll just have to wait for colder weather up north to push birds south and catch some rain to make habitat available for their arrival within Missouri’s floodplains.

The Youth Hunt for the North Zone is this weekend over October 22-23rd. It is followed by the North Zone Opener on October 29 and Middle Zone Youth Hunt on October 29-30th.

The next waterfowl migration update will be October 26th.

More information about habitat conditions and hunting prospects:

Missouri Waterfowl and Habitat Survey
Northcentral Region
Area Survey Date Ducks Species Composition Canada Geese Snow Geese Other
Eagle Bluffs CA * 10/17/2016 686 140 Gadwalls,
135 Mallards,
100 Mixed dabblers,
62 Shovelers,
249 Teal
2 0 2 Bald Eagles,
43 Great Blue Herons,
43 Great Egrets,
275 Pelicans
Fountain Grove CA * 10/17/2016 10700 350 Gadwalls,
50 Mallards,
500 Mixed dabblers,
6500 Pintails,
300 Shovelers,
3000 Teal
265 0 3 Bald Eagles,
1200 Coots,
50 Pelicans,
50 White Fronted Geese
Grand Pass CA * 10/17/2016 6315 1260 Gadwalls,
130 Mallards,
200 Mixed dabblers,
2835 Pintails,
1890 Teal
15 0 2 Bald Eagles,
450 Coots,
8 Great Blue Herons
Swan Lake NWR * 10/18/2016 1493 125 Gadwalls,
550 Mallards,
210 Mixed dabblers,
8 Mixed divers,
250 Pintails,
350 Teal
65 0 1 Bald Eagles,
500 Coots,
13 Great Blue Herons,
7 Great Egrets
Missouri Waterfowl and Habitat Survey
Northeast Region
Area Survey Date Ducks Species Composition Canada Geese Snow Geese Other
BK Leach CA * 10/17/2016 44 9 Gadwalls,
25 Mallards,
10 Teal
0 0 51 Coots,
1 Great Blue Herons,
100 White Fronted Geese
Clarence Cannon NWR * 10/11/2016 0 0 0
Columbia Bottom CA * 10/17/2016 3 0 Mallards,
3 Shovelers
0 0
Marais Temps Clair CA * 10/17/2016 33 5 Gadwalls,
2 Mallards,
18 Mixed dabblers,
8 Pintails
0 0
Ted Shanks CA * 10/17/2016 3610 470 Gadwalls,
450 Mallards,
17 Mixed dabblers,
1350 Pintails,
3 Ring-Necked ducks,
80 Shovelers,
1100 Teal,
140 Wigeon
0 0 1 Bald Eagles,
2200 Coots
Missouri Waterfowl and Habitat Survey
Northwest Region
Area Survey Date Ducks Species Composition Canada Geese Snow Geese Other
Bob Brown CA * 10/17/2016 6902 110 Gadwalls,
70 Mallards,
10 Mixed dabblers,
4150 Pintails,
12 Ring-Necked ducks,
2550 Teal
0 0 4 Bald Eagles,
390 Coots,
12 White Fronted Geese
Nodaway Valley CA * 10/17/2016 2235 360 Gadwalls,
195 Mixed dabblers,
880 Pintails,
800 Teal
0 0 85 Coots
Squaw Creek NWR * 10/17/2016 24642 40 Gadwalls,
185 Mallards,
135 Mixed dabblers,
20675 Pintails,
302 Ring-Necked ducks,
448 Shovelers,
2817 Teal,
40 Wigeon
243 0 12518 Coots,
1 Trumpeter Swans,
288 White Fronted Geese
Missouri Waterfowl and Habitat Survey
Southeast Region
Area Survey Date Ducks Species Composition Canada Geese Snow Geese Other
Coon Island CA * 10/17/2016 87 2 Gadwalls,
4 Mallards,
20 Mixed dabblers,
15 Pintails,
6 Shovelers,
40 Teal
0 0
Duck Creek CA * 10/17/2016 3320 300 Gadwalls,
68 Mallards,
0 Mixed dabblers,
7 Mixed divers,
1400 Pintails,
225 Ring-Necked ducks,
400 Shovelers,
840 Teal,
80 Wigeon
148 1 3 Bald Eagles,
208 White Fronted Geese
Little River CA * 01/04/2016 58 2 Gadwalls,
40 Mallards,
16 Mixed divers
0 0 125 Coots,
6 Great Blue Herons
Mingo NWR * 10/17/2016 1917 27 Mallards,
292 Mixed dabblers,
13 Pintails,
6 Shovelers,
1579 Teal
21 0 3 Bald Eagles,
434 Coots
Otter Slough CA * 10/17/2016 10625 100 Gadwalls,
225 Mallards,
9050 Pintails,
250 Shovelers,
875 Teal,
125 Wigeon
80 0 2 Bald Eagles,
5 Coots,
40 White Fronted Geese
Ten Mile Pond CA * 01/04/2016 60000 51000 Mallards,
9000 Mixed dabblers
0 80000
Missouri Waterfowl and Habitat Survey
Southwest Region
Area Survey Date Ducks Species Composition Canada Geese Snow Geese Other
Four Rivers CA * 10/17/2016 4190 425 Gadwalls,
100 Mallards,
2500 Mixed dabblers,
115 Pintails,
250 Shovelers,
800 Teal
40 0 20 Coots,
15 Great Egrets,
15 White Fronted Geese
Montrose CA * 10/17/2016 16 10 Mixed dabblers,
6 Teal
75 0 3 Coots,
300 Pelicans
Schell-Osage CA * 10/17/2016 4810 8 Gadwalls,
20 Mallards,
20 Pintails,
12 Shovelers,
4750 Teal
25 0 12 Bald Eagles,
200 Coots,
50 Pelicans
Settles Ford CA * 10/17/2016 380 100 Gadwalls,
100 Mallards,
25 Mixed dabblers,
100 Pintails,
5 Shovelers,
25 Teal,
25 Wigeon
0 0 5 Coots

* Designates Ground Count