While it may be the first month of the year, it is the last opportunity to sit in a blind and take down a limit of ducks. Hunters should take advantage of the last three weeks of the season, when ducks have flooded the Carolinas and are anxious to fill up on rich food resources. But by January, the waterfowl migration is practically over — or is it?
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 90-percent of all duck species migrate in November and December. So, where the ducks end up around Christmas is where they will be for the rest of the year? Well, not exactly.
Ducks migrate from their summering grounds in Canada and the northern United States at approximately the same time each year, based on the photoperiod or a decrease in visible daylight. However, all ducks don’t show up in Mexico or sunny Florida to spend their winter vacation. They will migrate south to familiar places they have visited in prior years or until they find places with adequate food, shelter and protection.
Ducks regularly arrive in mid-Atlantic states, such as Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, for two basic reasons. These states are rich in food resources and are historically prime wintering grounds for migrating flocks. However, these places are susceptible to prolonged winter freezes that can make food and sheltered safe havens unavailable.
Those brutal cold fronts lock up foods and trigger a massive movement south into the Carolinas. Often, the arrival of these winter flocks is recognized as a late-season migration, but they are really just weather-related movements. Ducks will pick up and fly south looking for places where food and protection are available. And along the way, they may stop to fuel up in the Carolinas where significant food and protective water are available. Regardless, hunters can directly benefit from the brutal winter storms when they infect northern wintering grounds.
However, ducks may only visit an area for only a few days. Hunters should invest many hours during the last month of the season and especially during or right after a harsh winter weather event.