Ducks, geese may be facing food shortages

Havana, Ill. — Illinois’ resident Canada goose breeding season was hit hard around the state by high water this spring.

But most of the passing waterfowl shouldn’t have been affected by the high water, said Randy Smith, Illinois DNR’s top waterfowl biologist.

“The spring floods were mostly late enough that most of the common migrants had mostly passed through the area,” Smith said.

In early June, Smith worked in various parts of the state to survey the state’s resident Canada goose broods, and the early results were not good.

“We’re seeing far fewer goose broods,” Smith said.

Smith said nests in low-lying areas were destroyed by the high water near streams and reservoirs.

It’s too bad, since the state’s annual survey of nesting Canada geese, which produces an estimate of nesting birds, conducted in mid-April, showed nesting on par with the last five years, Smith said.

But the survey missed most of the flooding, Smith added, noting that the state’s adult Canada goose population would have been able to get through the spring largely unscathed.

“We still have plenty of adult geese in the state,” Smith said.

For that matter, many of the state’s resident nesting waterfowl species would have had their breeding season hurt by the high water, Smith said, even including wood ducks, which often nest in the cavities of trees, often 10 to 20 feet off the ground.

“They’ll nest as high as they can, but the lower range would be susceptible, especially along the Illinois River,” Smith said, noting that new flood records were set along the river. “It was close to 20 feet over normal river stage in Normal and Havana.”

The flooding wasn’t as bad near the Illinois River confluence on the Mississippi River, Smith said.

But the flooding was not limited to the Illinois River watershed.

“I would say that northeast Illinois received so much flash flooding that every low-lying area was flooded,” Smith said, who surveyed the damage in northeast Illinois in early June and found far fewer young Canada geese than he would have expected to see after April’s nesting survey.

How will it affect the hunting season this fall?

“With poor production, hunters may not be as successful at harvesting them,” Smith said.

While there still are plenty of resident geese, there will be fewer young Canada geese, which are the most susceptible to hunters. Older geese are more experienced and better at avoiding areas where hunters are likely to pick them out of the sky.

The flooding is also affecting the ability for wildlife managers to prepare for the coming season, Smith said, noting that flooded fields can’t be planted with crops to attract waterfowl as well as preventing drawdowns that allow for other plants to grow that provide food for waterfowl.

“We may fall below our food production goals [for waterfowl],” Smith said.

And that could affect abundance of birds in the fall, which won’t stick around if there is no food to eat.

“Last year was a banner year for food and we saw record numbers of birds,” Smith said. “This year, we would expect to see fewer ducks in all of those places come fall.”

As for the coming waterfowl seasons, Smith said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s report on spring ponds in the pothole prairie region and boreal forests is expected soon. It is used to determine the timing and length of the various waterfowl seasons.

So a wet spring, which follows last year’s drought over much of the U.S., does have an upside.

“We’re expecting good numbers of ponds and ducks, which tends to lead to liberal hunting seasons,” Smith said.

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