Duck abundance depends on impoundment traits
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 2008 Ag News and Views newsletter.
Characteristics and management of a pond or marsh influence its ability to attract migratory ducks. Some of the most important considerations are mentioned below.
Impoundments located close to major rivers, waterfowl refuges or preferred crops such as peanuts, rice or corn typically draw more ducks. Duck numbers seem to recharge quicker following disturbances such as hunting when impoundments are located closer to such locales.
Remote impoundments exposed to minimal human activity usually hold more ducks than impoundments exposed to frequent human activity. However, ducks can learn to tolerate human activity when an impoundment is not hunted.
Larger impoundments generally draw and hold more ducks than smaller impoundments.
Shallow impoundments draw more dabbling ducks than deep impoundments. Dabbling ducks prefer to feed by dipping their heads and breasts into the water to feed rather than diving completely underwater. Dabbling ducks include mallard, gadwall, wigeon, pintail, shoveler and teal. A significant percentage of an impoundment should be shallower than 3 feet to attract maximum numbers of dabbling ducks.
Clear water is better than muddy water for duck ponds. It encourages more aquatic plant growth and allows ducks to see food easier.
The presence of abundant duck food plants in water is probably the most important criteria for attracting dabbling ducks. Duck food plants include several submersed aquatic plants, emersed aquatic plants, floating aquatic plants, moist soil plants and flooded terrestrial plants. Clear, shallow water is generally the best approach to encourage submersed and emersed aquatic duck food plants in permanently flooded impoundments.
Livestock activity in an impoundment can be neutral or negative depending upon the characteristics of the impoundment and the amount of impact. When livestock do not affect water clarity or plant community, their influence is usually neutral. Problems can occur when livestock muddy water and eliminate vegetation along the banks. Fencing can eliminate these problems.
A new impoundment with waterfowl goals should include a drawdown structure that allows a manager to manipulate water levels. A drawdown structure allows a pond or marsh to be drawn down 1-3 feet during early spring and summer to encourage the growth of moist soil plants such as smartweeds, barnyard grass and sedges that provide food for dabbling ducks. The impoundment should be refilled during fall to place the moist soil plants in shallow water. However, annual drawdown is not recommended in south-central Oklahoma and north-central Texas unless a dependable water supply is available, due to inconsistent fall rains.
Ducks should not be hunted too frequently at an impoundment or it scares them away. I prefer a small impoundment be hunted no more than once per week.
Ducks use a few ponds and marshes that do not fit any of these criteria because some ducks simply select impoundments for resting or roosting purposes. Also, some impoundments with all these criteria may not have ducks when few or no ducks are in the area due to the vagaries of duck migration. However, impoundments with more of these beneficial characteristics generally attract more ducks and attract ducks more consistently than impoundments with few of these characteristics.
Technical assistance for landowners wanting to build or manage impoundments for ducks in southern Oklahoma and north Texas is available from the Noble Foundation wildlife and fisheries consultants (580.224.6500), Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (405.521.2739), Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (512.539.4800), USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (405.742.1204 in Oklahoma and 254.742.9800 in Texas), and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (918.382.4511 in Oklahoma and 817.277.1100 in north Texas).
Cost share assistance for wetland restoration, waterfowl marsh construction or waterfowl management has been available from the NRCS Wetland Reserve Program, NRCS Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, ODWC Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program, and USF&WS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. The amount of cost share varies depending upon the program, size and type of project, and wildlife species benefiting from the project.