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OPINION | ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN: Ducks' patterns have changed

by Bryan Hendricks | April 1, 2021 at 2:13 a.m.

A recent study confirms what duck hunters already know, that far fewer ducks have been spending their winters in Arkansas.

Titled, "Half‐Century Winter Duck Abundance and Temperature Trends in the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyway," the study was published in the Journal of Wildlife Management. The National Audubon Society and Clemson University's James C. Kennedy Waterfowl and Wetlands Conservation Center conducted the study, which focused on 16 common duck species that winter in the Southeast. It documents their shift northward over the last 50 years in coincidence with warming temperatures.

The study's basis is data collected during during Audubon's annual Christmas Bird Count from 1960-2019. The Christmas Bird Count is an annual bird inventory conducted by amateur birders and scientists that record local bird sightings each December and January.

Tim Meehan, quantitative ecologist at the National Audubon Society, was the publication's lead author. He said the data confirms suspicions that warming temperatures are influencing which ducks that observers are documenting in different regions.

"The weather has stopped becoming severe enough in the winter to prompt the birds to fly south," Meehan said. "They're staying farther north, and they're telling us that something fundamental has changed in their environment."

According to the data, duck populations haven't changed overall, but warming temperatures correspond the regional abundance of duck species. For example, the American black duck, a species similar to the mallard with darker coloring and a distinctive purple wing patch, showed stable abundance overall, but observers noted significantly increased numbers in traditionally colder northern locations. Conversely, observers noted markedly reduced abundance in traditionally warmer regions.

Richard Kaminski, director of the Kennedy Center at Clemson University, said changing migration patterns could have broad repercussions for ducks if winter food supplies are insufficient to support them. Changing migration patterns will also dramatically affect southern hunting economies and traditions.

"Local economies in traditional southern wintering areas for ducks may be impacted by decreased numbers of visiting hunters and birders, as these conservationists go elsewhere to hunt or birdwatch," Kaminski said.

We're seeing it in Arkansas already. Duck seasons have increasingly become non-events for hunters in many locations. Hunters still kill a lot of mallards in Arkansas, but data collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show that it takes hunters a lot more hours afield to kill roughly the same number of mallards annually.

For more than 20 years, southern duck hunters have complained that states to the north, particularly Missouri, have been "shortstopping" ducks by planting vast amounts of duck friendly food. The findings of the study suggest that those states have reacted to the trend, but they did not create the trend.

In response to Kaminski's question, ducks are likely to remain north of Arkansas for significant portions of winter as long as food is available for them. The deteriorating state of some of our wildlife management areas might factor into migration patterns, as well. If the amount and quality of duck habitat in Arkansas diminishes, Arkansas might become less important for ducks in the Mississippi Flyway.

Arkansas buck recognized

The sixth edition of the Boone and Crockett Club's "Records of North American Whitetail Deer" honors the state-record typical white-tailed buck that William Loyd killed in 2018 in Lee County.

The 688-page book compiles state and provincial data of trophy whitetail deer and showcases states like Arkansas that successfully manage healthy deer herds.

Loyd's buck scored 200 1/8 points and ranks 17th all-time, pending review by the Judges Panel for the 31st Big Game Awards in 2022. It is a featured entry in the book.

According to the book, Wisconsin is the top state for Boone and Crockett entries with 1,822, followed by Illinois (1,445), Iowa (1,330), Minnesota (1,194), and Ohio (1,049). Coincidentally, Wisconsin is the nation's hot spot for chronic wasting disease. Arkansas ranks 15th overall with 254 total entries. Each state, in order of overall ranking, has tables of every Boone and Crockett ranked whitetail ever taken in the state.

The book costs $60 and is available at


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