Bird Conservation photo

Aerial surveys show that a strong frontal passage on November 12 pushed new ducks into the Illinois River Valley and along the upper Mississippi River.

Aaron Yetter, a research scientist for the Illinois Natural History Survey, conducts weekly waterfowl counts in fall and winter from the Great Bend of the Illinois River near Hennepin, Illinois to the river’s confluence with the Mississippi River at Grafton. From that point he turns north and flies up the Mississippi River to the Wisconsin border.

On Nov. 13, Yetter counted significantly more ducks than are typical for this area at this time. “We are way ahead of the 10-year average for both the Illinois and Mississippi,” said Yetter. “Habitat conditions are very good along both rivers this year. I think this partially explains the increase.”

Yetter counted 305,310 ducks along the Illinois River on the November 13 survey, well ahead of the 10-year average of 234,434 birds for this same week.

Upper Mississippi River numbers were equally impressive. Yetter counted 356,735 ducks there, well in excess of the 10-year average of 226,801 birds.

“It looks like we got a big push of new mallards,” said Yetter. “We also have well above average numbers of pintails, gadwalls, lesser scaup and other species.”

A good example of the current situation is the Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. The area has held around 120,000 ducks the last couple of weeks, and peak migration typically averages 60,000 to 70,000 birds.

Yetter’s observations are borne out by increased hunter success in both the Illinois and Mississippi River valleys. Tony Colvin, site manager for the Woodford and Marshall State Fish and Wildlife Areas just north of Peoria, reports that before the cold front on Nov. 12, duck hunters on his areas were averaging one duck per day. But on Tuesday, Nov. 13, that average jumped to four ducks per hunter.

“We’ve had a very slow start to our season due to mild weather and low bird counts in mid-Illinois,” Colvin reports. “But this recent push of birds with the cold front has brought a big change. Now the weather has moderated again, and hunter success has fallen off some. Still, we have a lot of new ducks in the area. This big push has saved our season for now.”

Wade Bourne is Editor-at-Large of Ducks Unlimited Magazine.

Find habitat and hunting reports in your area on the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map.