Forget mallard. While we’re are at it, forget pintail, widgeon, and blue-winged teal; might as well throw wood duck, shoveler, and redhead on the forget pile, too, and toss in bluewing for good measure.
These are all key species, but in terms of overall importance to Texas waterfowlers, all pail in comparison to the gadwall–yes, gadwall.
Called “gray duck” by many hunters, this species has seen a renaissance in population growth and hunter interest over the last 25 years like no other species.
This year gadwall are up 14 percent about last year’s high numbers with 3.811 million breeding birds in the population. That’s a whopping 102 percent about the long-term average.
Gadwall are abundant in the Texas coastal marshes and agriculture where most of the duck hunters in the state reside.
“They are an extremely important duck for us,” said Brian Fischer of Drake Plantation Outfitters-based in Winnie.
“They decoy well and eat pretty good too. A good year for gadwall usually means a good year for hunters in the coastal area especially up here on the Upper Coast.”
While these ducks can be easy to dupe, they are much more stubborn in the breeding grounds of North and South Dakota, where they are one of the last species to nest.
“Some ducks like mallards will already be well into nesting before the gadwalls begin. However when they do start they do it with gusto and they will re-nest,” said Dr. Scott Manley, biologist with Ducks Unlimited.
Re-nesting is important because predators like skunk and red fox often destroy nests and some species like pintail for example abandon their efforts. Gadwalls carry on and that coupled with their favor for Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land and large, permanent wetland impoundments gives them an edge over other species.
In dry years like 2008, when seasonal wetlands were few and far between, gadwall did decline from the previous wet year but held at 56 percent over the long-term average.
“The Dakotas are very important to gadwall and it is important we continue CRP and also the conservation easement program, which pays landowners a one time fee to deed nesting grounds protection into their property,” Manley said.
Since 1997 DU and their partners like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have purchased nearly 800,000 acres in easements in the Dakotas to a tune of more than $116 million dollars, greatly benefitting gadwall.
“Gadwall are an important and successful duck but they must have nesting habitat and that is what programs like this and the purchase of duck stamps provides. Gadwall and other species are direct benefactors of these acts of conservation,” Manley said.
Gadwall are my personal favorite duck as detailed in my book Texas Waterfowl.
Much of that has to do with magical experiences with this amazing birds.
Green may be the color of envy but gray is the true measure of success in Texas.
Story by Chester Moore