Like every traveler on a long-distance journey, waterfowl need comfortable accommodations on their spring and fall migratory flights.
Innumerable prairie potholes, wetland complexes and shallow lakes once provided those areas – places where the mallards, woodies, redheads, scaup, ringnecks, teal and pintails could rest, feed and breed.
Plentiful ducks meant good hunting, and Minnesotans – crouched in duck blinds and hidden along the marshy shores – built a waterfowl hunting tradition that survives to this day.
That generations-old tradition and the birds that came with it is why today's waterfowl hunters don't see what they desire. Wheeling mallards are far fewer, and teal don't dart in the numbers they once did.
Ducks still are there. Minnesota's 2009 duck and goose harvest of 805,000 birds was more than the pheasant and ruffed grouse harvest combined. But the realities of a changed landscape, sometimes reflected in quieter skies above a hunter's favorite duck pond, are apparent.
Wetland loss and degradation, limited nesting cover, poor water quality and increased predation have negatively impacted habitat crucial for waterfowl and shorebirds. As habitat has disappeared, migration patterns have shifted westward over more favorable accommodations in the Dakotas.
There is no going back. Minnesota has lost more than 90 percent of its native wetlands and 99 percent of its native grasslands. But there is a future. Minnesota DNR's wildlife section, working on its own and with partners who are equally concerned about improving and creating habitat, has key strategies in place to keep waterfowl a strong and vibrant natural resource.
Moist soils management
Created, restored and enhanced wetlands are intensively managed by keeping them dry during a portion of the summer growing season and flooding them during spring and fall. This technique, explained here in the Moist Soils Management Guide , targets shallow waters that feeding ducks such as teal and mallard favor.
Minnesota has 4,000 shallow lakes, basins that are larger than 50 acres but less than 16 feet deep. They can be ideal lakes for waterfowl, wild rice and other wildlife. The Shallow Lakes Management Plan aims to put more ducks in the sky by training its focus on the 1,854 shallow lakes that are either on or next to public land.