With drought impacting waterfowl, hunters may have to work harder to fill limits
Sky-Hi News intern
Colorado hunters may observe strange habits in waterfowl this season, as the extended drought and varying weather patterns are pushing some birds to fly south earlier and keeping other birds in the north longer.
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, lower water levels and colder-than-normal temperatures have pushed ducks and geese from Canada, the Dakotas, and Wyoming down the Pacific Flyway earlier than normal. These birds typically stop over in Colorado’s ample wetland habitat on their way south.
But ongoing drought has caused dramatic decreases in pond sizes and breeding habitat along the Pacific and Central flyways. The result has been a 35% decrease in the overall population of ducks and other waterfowl compared to 2019 estimates. The mallard population was estimated at 9.4 million in the breeding and summer habitats of southern Canada, Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming in 2019, while . Parks and Wildlife now estimates the population to sit around 7.2 million. Geese populations have seen similar declines. Geese and mallards are the two main targeted waterfowl species in Grand County.
The decrease means Colorado waterfowl hunters may have to hunt more often or in different areas to fill their bag limits. They may also find more competition along the shoreline of banks and streams known to attract birds. Hunting at the head of one of the largest watersheds in the Western U.S. in Grand County, local hunters may experience less habitat decline, but with drought in other parts of the U.S. and Canada, the effects will be seen in the number of birds stopping in the area on their flights south.
Many hunters will have to contend with other impacts locally, said Jeromy Huntington, Parks and Wildlife manager for Area 9, which includes Grand County.
The boat ramp on Williams Fork Reservoir has been closed since Sept. 28 due to low water levels. Kemp Breeze, a wildlife restoration area, is also closed from below the bridge near Bar Lazy J Ranch for the same reason. But the river and wetland areas upstream from the bridge are still open to hunting and fishing, said Huntington.
If you hunt waterfowl, avoid closed areas and other locations with lower-than-average water. That may mean extra scouting before setting out decoys. Goose season on the Pacific Flyway lasts from Oct. 1 to Jan. 4. Duck and coot season goes from Oct. 1 to Jan. 13.
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