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Dabbling Duck Management

In Virginia, the dabbling ducks include mallard, black duck, gadwall, American widgeon, green-winged teal, blue-winged teal, shoveler, pintail, and wood duck.

Dabbling duck management involves the implementation of the same management strategies as for any other wildlife, provide and maintain their food, water, and cover.

Shallow water impoundments, when properly designed and managed, provide the habitat needs for dabbling ducks and benefit other waterfowl, wading birds, and wildlife.

In most areas, the best location for an impoundment will be in or near an existing wetland. Before any design or construction begins, an on-site inspection by the US Army Corps of Engineers (COE) and/or the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) is necessary to delineate existing wetlands and to determine how the project will effect the area. If the project requires a wetland permit, a "joint permit application" must be submitted to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC). VMRC coordinates the permit process with the local, state, and federal jurisdictions. Approval and comment from these groups is required before construction starts.

A shallow water impoundment should have an average water depth of 1-2 feet for 75% of the surface area and two feet or greater for the remaining 25%. The sides of the dikes should have gentle slopes of 5:1 to 10:1. A system to control water levels and to completely drain the impoundment is essential.

Marsh size should be one surface acre or greater. The impoundment and water control structures should conform to applicable engineering and SCS standards and specifications. SCS standards may be obtained through their office.

An adequate water source is needed to flood half the project over a 1-2 week period and continue to flood the remaining area in 4-6 weeks. Watershed run-off, ground water, and irrigation ponds are potential water sources. Before water can be pumped from nearby rivers, streams, or lakes into the impoundment, contact VMRC for approval.

Food sources may be provided mechanically (plant & flood) and/or naturally (moist soil management). To plant and flood, drain the impoundment in late March-early April and plant milo or short variety corn as soon as soil conditions allow. Begin flooding the third week of September and bring to full pool by mid-November. Another plant and flood practice is to drain the pond in June and plant Japanese millet or buckwheat in mid-July. Begin flooding the third week of September and bring to full pool by mid-November.

To stimulate native waterfowl foods (moist soil management), begin a slow, gradual drawdown through the month of June and maintain 2-3 inches of water through July. Smartweeds, sedges, rushes, and wild millets respond quickly to the moist soil environment and become abundant. Begin flooding the third week of September and bring to full pool by mid-November.

A combination of plant and flood and moist soil management may be implemented as an alternate practice. Drain half the pond in early June and plant buckwheat and/or Japanese millet in the drained area in mid-July. Continue the drawdown through July, leaving 2-3 inches of water. This provides the moist soil conditions for the native plants to grow. Begin flooding the third week of September and bring to full pool by mid-November.

The dike and the area 50'-100' around the impoundment may be enhanced for waterfowl and other wildlife by planting a mixture of ladino clover/orchard grass. Do not mow this strip until August. The strip provides cover for ground nesting wildlife in the spring and becomes a loafing/grazing area for waterfowl,especially geese, in the fall.

To enhance the impoundment for broods, begin a gradual drawdown from mid-June to mid-July. This creates an interspersion of open-water and emergent vegetation needed to produce invertebrates for food and cover to escape predators. To enhance the impoundment for nesting waterfowl, plant one-third of the shoreline with low-lying shrubs such as button-bush, autumn olive, bayberry, silky dogwood, or swamp willow. In addition, construct small islands in the impoundment and plant with shrubs or switchgrass/coastal panicgrass to provide additional nesting cover.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,
Norfolk District
803 Front Street
Norfolk, Virginia 23510
Ph. 804/441-7652

USDA/Soil Conservation Service
400 North Eighth Street, 9th Floor
Richmond, Virginia 23240-9999
Ph. 804/771-2461

Virginia Marine Resources Commission
Habitat Management Division
Post Office Box 756
Newport News, Virginia 23607
Ph. 804/247-2200