Winter Bird Migration: Have A Nice Flight

How food, water, and shelter make farmland a key habitat for ducks and geese during the winter. Improve bird populations and hunting opportunities.

By Boyce Upholt | Photos By ©

Millions of ducks and geese wing their way into American farmland each winter. These months will shape the rest of their annual life cycle—the birds need to store up food so they’ll be able to breed and brood once they return back north. “A healthy, happy fall and winter makes for a very productive spring,” says Scott Manley, a director of conservation programs with Ducks Unlimited. The key to helping the birds, he says, is seeing to their basic needs.

  • Food: Food energy is essential for wintering waterfowl. Reduce your tillage—or don’t till at all—and, if possible, leave a small amount of grain unharvested at the edges of your fields, but if you do so, be aware of regulations that may limit hunting as a result.
  • Water: Waterfowl live in, well, water, and the science shows that wet years lead to higher bird populations. By closing or partially blocking drain structures, or building berms and terraces, you can slow drainage from your fields to mimic natural wetland environments.
  • Shelter: Habitat is not just about food and water—it’s comfort, too. “Let them settle,” Manley says. “Let them call your farm home.” Limit hunts in any field to once per day, or even once every few days. You’ll find that when you do hunt, you’ll have much better results.

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