Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

W. M. Wolfe. April 18, 1889. Forest and Stream 32(13): 256.

The Migration of the Ducks.

The four rivers of Nebraska, the Republican, Platte, Loup, and Niobrara are division stations in the migrations of the Anatidæ. The line of flight of the ducks is much more variable than that of geese or swans, but certain rules may be considered reliable in the observation of their autumnal and spring journeys. When ducks in their southern flight strike a stream they drift but little, either up or down, and when they make their final flight to the next river they leave the spot where they first arrived. In spring this is changed. Their general direction is northwest. After reaching a river they sail up stream a few miles each day, and thus while resting accomplish a portion of their western flight. Thus ducks will be found on the Platte opposite Grand Island or Alda a day or two before they are noticed at Kearney. This is especially to be observed in the late arriving species. The first grand duck wave of the season was on March 16. At this time geese and brant were here in full force, and many of the Canada geese had left for the north. Robins and meadowlarks were abundant, and one pair of woodpeckers had been seen. The latter were, I believe, rushing the season. Up to March 14, our only ducks were pintails, with a few mallards.

March 15.—Redheads come from the south in great numbers, also a few green-winged teal.

March 16.—Redheads, green-winged teal, more teal than redheads, some widgeon. The majority of teal did not stop at the Platte, but went six miles further to Wood River, a sluggish stream about ten yards wide, with banks heavily covered with brush of wild plums and willows. Here they have since remained undisturbed, as gunners confine their attentions to the Platte and to the overflowed marshes in its immediate vicinity. This freak of the teal in taking to Wood River instead of to the Platte is a mystery to me. All the morning the pintails were very uneasy. They would ascend to a great height, fly a mile or two away from the river, as though uncertain what to do. In the afternoon most of them set out at a rapid rate for the Loup. Vale, thou erratic Dafila acuta! each flight now takes thee further from the haunts of men. Sharp of sight and swift of motion must he be who will now lay thee low; so, farewell until September. The same day brought the bluebirds, I also saw a few widgeons.

March 17.—A warm and rainy day, the first of the season. Ducks did not leave the river and very few geese went to the cornfields. What a disappointment this was to the scores of would-be hunters who had hired their guns and laid in their ammunition on Saturday afternoon. I should pity them did I not feel it to be a just retribution. How many of us, snugly hidden in our blinds, have had a day's pleasure spoiled by these black coated, black-hatted fiends, who deliberately seat themselves in full view not more than fifty yards from the blind, who fire at a flock 300 yds. away and then jump up and ram another charge into the old muzzleloader? These are the gun-shop fiends, who, when they go to the store protest that they know nothing about goose shooting and want the same kind of shot and the same quantity of powder that the dealer uses in his own gun. He genially smiles and shows them No. 4 shot, which is just the size for a strong and close-shooting gun. In spite of their professed willingness to take the seller's advice, they ask to see something a "leetle bigger," and finally, having gone down the scale, they end the interview by purchasing OOs. They would have taken bullets had they not been informed that bullets are apt to get stuck in a chokebore. Nature is just, and when she gives us a rainy Sunday, and that the 17th of March, she knows what kind of sportsmen she is punishing.

March 18.—Weather clearing and clear, very warm, no frost on the ground. The buds of maples are much swollen, and our song birds gave us the first matin concert of the season. Bluebirds and sparrows are abundant in the shrubbery. Many mallards arrived, and the flocks of redhead and teal were augmented. Pintails seem to have deserted the river, though a few may still be found at the lakes, four miles west of Kearney. This was the first day of good shooting at the upper lake, as both redhead and mallard were to be found there. Teal are not wasting much time on the Platte, but after resting a few hours seek the solitude of Wood River. One gadwall (A. strepera) and a shoveler (here called "spoonbill") were shot on the Platte. Sportsmen say that the shoveler indicates settled spring weather, as well as the height of the vernal shooting season. In spite of overflowed marshes, wet roads and muddy cornfields, this was the red-letter day. Redhead and mallard on the Platte, teal on Wood River, with geese and brant by the thousand feeding in the upland cornfields that lie between the two streams. The later ducks are beginning to appear. There are a few bluewinged teal and several butterballs. Redheads are coming down well to the mallard decoys. They are doing better than usual in this respect, as most of our local sportsmen claim that they do not decoy "worth a cent."

Sportsmen who went out the latter part of last-week returned to-day. One party had forty ducks and seven geese, another thirty-seven ducks. From data furnished by them I add to the report of March 16 the following species, this being the date of their first appearance: Blue-winged teal—one specimen shot on Wood River; a pair of bluebill—female shot on the Platte—and a very few cinnamon teal. The latter are a rare visitant in this section. Comparing this date with the best of the spring shooting season in 1888, I find that ducks are more abundant, and sportsman are, as a rule, getting larger bags. On the other hand, sport with geese and brant has deteriorated, though there are enough of these, and more than enough to satisfy any rational hunter.

March 19.—Very warm and clear in the morning with indications of a storm in the afternoon. Many geese, mallards and redheads go northward, though blackwinged brant have not yet begun to move. A letter just received from "Sibylline" reports luck shooting in Colorado as "below the average" this year. This may account for the better than average sport which we are enjoying.

From this time until grass starts and the birds can get green picking along the streams and ponds, there will be little new to record. The arrivals and departures of mallards, redheads and pintails will offset each other. Teal will not fly much and there will be a sprinkling of butterballs, widgeon and bluebills. It will be a month before we can tell how many or what kind of ducks will stay or, perhaps, summer in the lagoons along the Platte.

The ignorance of ducks displayed by some hunters is marvelous. From one of today's Omaha papers I quote:"Mr._, a most successful sportsman, has spent two days on the Platte. He returned last evening with an immense bag of canvasbacks." I would like the names, addresses and description of the shooting grounds of anyone who has obtained three canvasbacks this season in Nebraska. There might, of course, have been an errant specimen or a pair that had lost their longitude, but even this is doubtful.

Shooting over decoys is not in high favor with most of our sportsmen, although those who resort to the artifice are uniformly successful. I think that failures must, in many instances, be attributed to the use of pintails instead of mallards or redheads. It is true that the swift waters of the Platte are not so well adapted for the use of decoys as are those of a landlocked lake. i

Neither are retrievers employed to any extent. We have some excellent ones in this section, but most of our good dogs are pointers, and as they lie on the damp ground in a blind they suffer more from cold than do their masters. Setters on coming from the icy water do not dry thoroughly, and soon become stiffened from the exposure. The secret of the non-use of dogs in ducking is due to the fact that men who cannot have a dog especially for this purpose prefer to keep their four-footed friends in first-rate condition for quail and chicken shoot.

  • Shoshone
  • Kearney, Neb., March 20.

Kearney, Neb., March 25.—I find that I am in error in the above statement concerning canvasbacks, although, before writing the article, I consulted all of our local sportsmen, and none of them had killed the bird west of the Missouri River. Prof. Smith, of the State Industrial School, has a blind on Second Lake, three miles west of town. He uses canvasbacks as decoys and with good success. On Friday last (March 22) a small flock of canvasbacks dropped among his "floaters" and he secured eight. They are the genuine article, and I believe them to be the first canvasbacks shot here in several years. Duck shooting is improving every day. Shoshone.

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