This is the time of year to stop and listen to the sounds of ducks and geese, our greatest teachers.
Spring is finally in the air around my home state of Michigan. After a relentless, seemingly never-ending winter, complete with record snowfalls and massive ice-coverage across the big lakes, we are finally seeing the light. Literally.
With the big thaw comes waves of ducks making their way to the breeding grounds. Many will end up breeding here; others continue to travel north to the Canadian prairies. I find time, despite a hectic schedule and an endless list of chores, to sit and listen.
Ducks are consumed with breeding in early spring. Like most forms of wildlife, their supreme purpose is to carry on the species, and with that goal comes the need for attracting mates and keeping them happy, done through vocalization.
Now is the time to really learn what ducks sound like, why they call like they do and how inflection plays a key part. Always being a follower of realism, I never call ducks in a way that they, themselves, don’t do. And April across the North will show you all they do.
A quick trip to the park yesterday brought me eye to eye with a beautifully plumed gadwall. As he slowly swam away from the shallow shoreline where we met, he left with a series of calls sounding like a computerized voice saying “Brent." It was one of the few times I’ve heard such vocalizations so clearly. Out at the ice edge were gobs of wigeon; they’re famous three-note whistle could be heard a substantial distance. Mallards rained in the small marsh behind me, with the vocalization of both hens and drakes more evident now than ever. Open water rafts of canvasbacks growled away, and the local Canadian honkers were “crazy loud."
Now is the time to learn. Although it took a few minutes to remember where I put my calls following the final days of last season, I quickly added them to the console of my truck. Each day, I find myself listening; calling back, trying to replicate the sounds Mother Nature is so free with now.
As usual, I find my abilities pale in comparison with the real thing, and that most duck calls on the market aren’t even close. For some reason, duck call makers seem to insist on higher pitches than what I hear from the real thing. But I’ve narrowed my selection to a few that seem to be close, perhaps more practice will put me closer.
Throughout the year, I consult what I consider to be the best all-around collection of natural duck sounds on the web, at Ducks Unlimited’s Waterfowl ID page. Often, I find myself in the garage, calling back the evening before a big hunt, as anticipation hits dangerous levels. That never ceases to amaze my wife.
But, this time of year, nothing replaces the real thing. I’m headed to the marsh.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.