March 16, 2022
There’s no better way to learn all you can about waterfowl than by actually watching them, and observing them while you’re not hunting, is the best way.
When on the hunt, a lot can be learned by watching ducks and geese approach the decoys. But pull the trigger and the moment ends. Watching live birds in a marsh or on a refuge goes on for hours, allowing you to closely observe what birds are doing and better yet, figure out why, in a natural situation.
While the accompanying video touches on key benefits of watching waterfowl, here are three more tips to help you learn all you can about the ducks and geese we love to hunt.
Watch the Weather
First, get afield in all kinds of weather conditions. Rarely do duck hunts take place on a blue sky day with the sun at our back. This scenario is the most favorable to identify birds and clearly watch their behavior, but most duck hunts take place in low light morning hours and on cloudy or rainy days. These are ideal situations to observe waterfowl, too.
The more you watch birds in low light situations, the better you’ll become at identifying them when backlit or silhouetted. Look at the outline of a flying bird from as far away as possible and track it for as long as you can, confirming its identity as it approaches. Note its shape, head size and position, tail shape, wing thickness and wingbeat, and how the bird flies, turns, and lands. These will all help in learning proper species identification.
Cleared for Landing
Second, watch birds closely to see where they land, then note if they landed to feed, preen, or sleep. If feeding, study what they’re eating. Food is a key element to duck and goose hunting success. If the birds go to preening, sleeping or both, note how long they stay there. Were they relaxed the whole time, or did they come to preen and get right back out to feed? If it was a stormy, cold day, maybe they only briefly stuck around, or maybe it was so nasty they stayed in one place all day. Note which directions the birds approached from and where they left. Some ducks have been known to travel over 100 miles a day from a refuge in order to reach prime food.
Shut Up and Listen
Finally, listen to the sounds ducks and geese make. Identifying the sounds, notes, and volume of their calls will not only help you identify them, it’ll help make you a better caller.
For instance, listen to how a hen mallard and hen pintail quack, or how a drake pintail and drake wigeon whistle. Note the cadence of their calls, their volume, and when they make specific sounds. Listen to how geese call when they’re approaching a potential landing place, and how these sounds change as they get closer; listen to birds in the air and on the ground. If looking to become a better caller, hearing the many sounds ducks and geese make is invaluable, as is understanding why they make the sounds they do.
Tools of the Trade
Invest in the best binoculars you can afford, for the better the quality of glass, the more clearly you can see birds. Quality optics also allow you to glass longer, without eye fatigue.
A spotting scope is an excellent tool to observe ducks and geese from a
distance without them knowing you’re there. It’s also a great way to watch them up close and personal. Better yet, “digiscoping” (placing the lens of a digital camera up to the eyepiece of a spotting scope) can greatly help you capture and watch key behaviors of birds, studying them more closely at home.
As hunters, the more we know about the birds we pursue, the more effective our decoy spreads and calling will be. Ultimately, time wisely spent observing waterfowl will make us better hunters and add more joy to each and every hunt.
Note: Scott Haugen is a full-time author. Learn more at www.scotthaugen.com, and follow him on Instagram and Facebook.