September through March
Louisiana’s coastal marshes and bays, lakes, ponds, swamps and agricultural fields are key wintering areas for millions of ducks and geese from across the entire North American continent. Waterfowl travel south from their breeding grounds to Louisiana via the Mississippi and Central flyways. American Coots also arrive in spectacular numbers with huge flocks usually present along the Creole Loop 2 south of the Intercoastal Waterway.
It is not uncommon to see thousands of birds feeding or resting in marshes or ponds of the state’s National Wildlife Refuges, State Refuges or in rice fields or crawfish ponds. You may be lucky to see and hear large groups take wing together when they are spooked by a raptor or when they fly in or out of their feeding grounds at dawn or dusk. Blue-winged Teal are typically the first to arrive and numbers are already present by mid Sept. Other dabbling ducks (Mallard, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, and Northern Shoveler) start to trickle into southern Louisiana during September but their largest influx isn’t until October. Diving ducks also arrive during October and November (Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Canvasback, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Hooded and Red-breasted mergansers).
The arrival of large flocks of geese, including Snow and White-fronteds; and smaller numbers of Ross’s and Cackling (formerly Canada Goose), is associated with cold fronts during late October and November. Waterfowl numbers continue to increase through the early winter, with numbers found in Louisiana typically reflecting the severity of winter weather farther north. Birds may continue to arrive well into January sometimes even February. During March’s warming temperatures birds begin to drift northward and by mid-April most have departed for the breeding grounds leaving the marshes to the resident Mottled Duck and Neotropical migrant Fulvous Whistling-Duck. Small numbers of Blue-winged Teal and American Coot remain to nest in the marshes.
Wood Duck, and less commonly Hooded Merganser, nest in swamps or where ever cavities or nest boxes may be available.
Dabbling ducks in coastal marshes feed in shallow water on invertebrates, seeds and aquatic vegetation. Diving ducks inhabit deeper water in ponds and lakes where they add small fish to their diets of vegetation and aquatic invertebrates. Geese gravitate to agricultural land mostly rice fields, where they graze seeds and other vegetation.
Some waterfowl sites that include large concentrations of geese Lacassine NWR (site 3-3), Cameron Prairie NWR (site 2-3), Sabine NWR (site 1-6 and 1-7), (site 7-7), and Rockefeller Refuge (site 2-7). Bayou Sauvage NWR, Little Chenier Road (Site 2-6) are also good sites to view an assortment of waterfowl. For diving ducks, check along Lake Pontchartrain at the Mandeville Lakefront (site 12-4) and New Orleans Lakefront (site 7-5) and along the Gulf at Holly Beach (1-8) and Martin Beach (1-10). These are also good areas to search for less common and rare species such as all three scoter species Common Goldeneye, Greater Scaup, and Long-tailed Duck.