Illinois Department of Natural Resources
November 2019
November 1, 2019

2019–2020 Waterfowl Hunting Overview and Outlook

By Dan Holm, Randy Smith

Status of Duck Populations and Wetlands on the Breeding Grounds

The number of breeding ducks estimated on this year’s North American spring waterfowl survey was 38.9 million. This estimate is 6 percent below last year’s estimate of 41.2 million and is 10 percent higher than the long-term average (1955-2018; 35.4 million). Wetland numbers on the breeding grounds declined slightly from 2018, and breeding conditions varied from poor to good across the Prairie Pothole Region. Important breeding areas in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan were much drier than last year. In contrast, ducks found increased wetland numbers in South Dakota and eastern North Dakota. The estimated number of wetlands on the 2019 spring survey was 5.0 million, 5 percent below last year’s estimate of 5.2 million and the long-term average of 5.2 million. As a result of good habitat conditions and production in recent years, population estimates for most duck species surveyed were well above long-term averages.

A group of Canada geese swimming on a pond near the bank with trees in the background.

Canada Geese

Most Canada geese that occur in Illinois during fall and winter are from two distinct populations, the Southern Hudson Bay Population (SHBP) and the Mississippi Flyway Giant Population (MFGP). Canada geese that nest in northern Ontario and northern Manitoba near the southern and western portions of Hudson and James Bays and adjacent areas are part of the SHBP. Canada geese that nest in Illinois and other Mississippi Flyway states and in southern Ontario and southern Manitoba are part of the MFGP. In recent years about 35 percent of Illinois’ Canada goose harvest consisted of SHBP geese and approximately 61 percent of Illinois’ harvest was made up of MFGP geese, September through January. Spring survey results for MFGP geese showed that the breeding population declined slightly from last year (-4 percent). Preliminary reports indicate MFGP gosling production was average to above average throughout most of the flyway. Early information on SHBP geese suggests stable breeding populations. Biologists reported an early spring in portions of the subarctic (James Bay), an average spring along the southwestern coast of Hudson Bay, and poor weather conditions during hatch and early brood rearing along portions of the Hudson Bay coast in Ontario. Overall, anecdotal reports regarding SHBP Canada geese indicates average production.

A flock of snow geese landing on a wetland.

Snow Geese

An estimated 3.95 million Mid-continent light geese were observed on the 2019 Midwinter Waterfowl Survey, a nationwide waterfowl survey conducted by each state which occurs each year in early January. This estimate is 3 percent below the number observed in 2018 (4.06 million) and 12 percent above the 10-year average (3.53 million). Preliminary information on 2019 habitat conditions for Mid-continent light geese indicates nest initiation and production was highly variable across the central and eastern Arctic. Biologists working in the central Arctic observed below average production. Banding crews working in the eastern Arctic found many goslings were smaller than usual, but production appeared near average. Overall, a below-average fall flight is expected.

White-fronted Geese

White-fronted geese (“specklebellies” or “specs”) that make up the Mid-continent Population (MCP) concentrate on staging areas in the southern Canadian prairies each fall. Biologists conduct fall aerial inventories during peak of white-front migration to monitor changes in population status. In fall 2018, approximately 774,100 MCP white-fronted geese were observed, which is similar to the number observed in 2017 (771,600) and 4 percent below the 10-year average (802,700).

A female mallard duck in flight.

Within Illinois

The number of waterfowl individual hunters encounter in Illinois each fall and winter varies with a number of factors, including size of the continental population, timing of weather events and local habitat conditions. Unfortunately, water levels and food availability are predicted to be below average on many Illinois Department of Natural Resources management areas this year. Prolonged and extensive flooding along many major rivers, or extreme precipitation events, have severely limited habitat management efforts at many sites which may reduce the number of ducks and their duration of stay this season.

For additional information on waterfowl harvests, population trends, aerial surveys, and hunter opinions please see these websites:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Illinois Natural History Survey

Illinois Department of Natural Resources

Dan Holm is the IDNR Division of Wildlife Resources Waterfowl Project Manager, and Randy Smith is the IDNR Division of Wildlife Resources Wetland Wildlife Program Manager.