Waterfowl Management in Georgia

Waterfowl Habitats in Georgia

Georgia is blessed with a great diversity of wetland habitats. In his 1978 book, "The Natural Environments of Georgia," Charles H. Wharton divided Georgia''s wetlands into 39 different types ranging from mountain springs to salt marsh and beach. A much simpler breakdown of wetland types is presented by the Georgia Nongame and Natural Heritage Section in their publication entitled "State of Georgia Landcover Statistics by County." This breakdown can be simplified to include 5 different wetland types: 1) major reservoirs, 2) farm ponds, 3) beaver ponds and forested wetland, 4) coastal marshes, and 5) managed impoundments.

Reservoirs 

Reservoirs in the southern Atlantic Flyway serve as important resting areas for migrating waterfowl. Most reservoirs are too deep to produce enough food to hold ducks over the winter, but they do provide resting areas and refuges from nearby hunting pressure. There are many large reservoirs in Georgia that are owned and operated by the Georgia Power Company or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Some of these reservoirs have well-developed shorelines and heavy boat traffic, and are of little value to migrating waterfowl.  However, some of our reservoirs do provide benefits for waterfowl.

The large reservoir projects along the Georgia-South Carolina border including Hartwell, Russell, and Clark Hill provide stopover areas for ducks migrating to coastal areas of Georgia and South Carolina. Along the Chattahoochee River basin in southwestern Georgia, Lakes Walter F. George and Seminole provide resting and feeding areas for waterfowl migrating to the Gulf Coast of Florida. Submergent and emergent vegetation proliferate in the relatively shallow waters of Lake Seminole, providing an ample supply of food for the waterfowl that use the lake. Lake Seminole contains Georgia''s largest inland concentration of wintering waterfowl, primarily ring-necked ducks, canvasbacks, and scaup.

Farm Ponds

Farm ponds are designed for fish, not for ducks. Most farm ponds are too deep for waterfowl use and are built with steep sides to reduce the growth of aquatic vegetation. Most good duck foods are considered to be weeds by the average fishermen.

Farm ponds may occasionally provide resting habitat for migrating ducks, but they do not provide enough food to hold ducks over the winter. If the pond is bordered by grass, Canada geese may be attracted to the pond and will feed on the nearby grasses. The landowner must decide whether to manage for ducks or for fish, because a good pond for fishing is usually not a good pond for ducks.

Beaver Ponds and Forested Wetlands

Beaver ponds are found all over Georgia and contain various types of wetland habitats. Beaver pond habitat includes emergent herbaceous vegetation such as cattails, needle rush, or bulrush and a few interspersed woody plants such as willows, alder, or button bush. Forested wetlands include areas dominated by large woody vegetation, and includes habitats such as river swamps, cypress ponds, and tupelo gum ponds.

During the breeding season, these wetlands provide excellent nesting sites and brood-rearing habitat for resident wood ducks. During the fall and winter, these inland freshwater wetlands are used extensively by migrating and wintering wood ducks, mallards, and teal. Available foods include acorns from oak trees, seeds of naturally occurring vegetation, and numerous types of aquatic invertebrates. Beaver ponds and forested wetlands also provide roosting sites, loafing areas, and refuge from disturbance. Because of their importance to wood ducks, these types of interior freshwater wetlands are some of the most popular areas for Georgia''s waterfowl hunters.

Coastal Marshes

The tidal marshes around Georgia''s ''Golden Isles'' can be classified in one of two categories: brackish or salt. Brackish marsh includes low-salinity emergent wetlands dominated by black needlerush or giant cordgrass. These wetlands are transitional areas between freshwater marsh or forested wetland and salt marsh. The vast majority of Georgia''s coastal wetlands are defined as salt marsh and include extensive areas dominated by smooth cordgrass.

Coastal wetlands, because of the influence of the tides, are extremely rich in nutrients and can provide important wintering areas for a variety of waterfowl species. Coastal bays and sounds are important areas for migrating scaup, mergansers, and scoters.

Managed Impoundments

Managed waterfowl impoundments can provide the best possible habitat for migrating and wintering waterfowl. The key to a successful waterfowl impoundment is the ability to control the water level. This includes being able to drain and reflood the impoundment at any time. A dependable water supply is a must. If you can control the water, then you can influence the vegetation in the impoundment. By manipulating factors such as water depth, timing of flooding, duration of flooding, and timing of drawdown, you can provide the proper conditions for growing a variety of food plants that are highly preferred by ducks. Normally, impoundments are flooded in October or early November and are drained in the late winter or early spring. If wood duck production is an important objective, the impoundment may remain flooded until June to provide sufficient brood-rearing habitat for the ducklings. The impoundment manager also can control other factors such as cover and hunting pressure.

Managed impoundments on the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge on the Georgia-South Carolina border are extremely important wintering areas for waterfowl migrating down the Savannah River system, and managed coastal impoundments along the Altamaha river just south of Darien provide migrating and wintering habitat for American green-winged teal, blue-winged teal, wood ducks, northern pintails, gadwall, northern shovelers, mallards, mottled ducks, black ducks, American wigeon, ring-necked ducks, and lesser scaup.

Waterfowl impoundments come in many forms, they may be flooded moist soil areas with native vegetation, flooded fields of agricultural crops, or flooded hardwoods (known as green tree reservoirs). Management techniques for waterfowl impoundments will be discussed on the following pages.