Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast Region
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Waterfowl Management

Credit: Clayton Ferrell, SFWS

Credit: Clayton Ferrell, USFWS

Tennessee NWR serves as an important wintering ground for thousands of migratory waterfowl using the Mississippi Flyway. In fact, the refuge’s primary management objective is to provide food and protection for waterfowl. Each year the refuge winters approximately 150,000 ducks, and duck numbers can exceed a peak of 250,000 in some winters. The Refuge is a significant wintering area for American black ducks in Tennessee, accounting for 50-75 percent of the population observed during the Mid-winter Survey. Thus, during normal winters the Refuge winters 20-30% of the black ducks occurring in the Mississippi Flyway. Other duck species present in significant numbers during fall and winter include the mallard, gadwall, wigeon, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, pintail, ring-necked duck, canvasback, lesser scaup, bufflehead, goldeneye, and ruddy duck. Although the refuge does not receive high nesting densities of ducks during the spring, the wood duck and the hooded merganser nest on the refuge in impressive numbers.

Tennessee NWR provides diverse habitats that provide waterfowl forage during their annual visits to the Refuge. Currently, Refuge habitats managed for waterfowl include agricultural crops such as corn, millet, milo, and winter wheat, natural plants that grow in moist soil conditions, and vegetated wetlands. It is critical that an array of habitat types (moist soil, agriculture, flooded woodlands, natural aquatics, shallow water, browse, open-acres, mud flats, etc.) be available to meet life-history needs of resident and migrant waterfowl. The resulting combination of agricultural grains, natural foods and protected areas, sustains waterfowl through the winter months during the sanctuary season.

Incoming Blue-Winged Teal. Credit: Clayton Ferrell, SFWS

Incoming Blue-Winged Teal. Credit: Clayton Ferrell, USFWS

Tennessee NWR provides sanctuary for migratory waterfowl from November 15 to March 15 of each year. This sanctuary period provides waterfowl with undisturbed places for feeding, resting, loafing, preening, breeding, and molting sites. As a result, waterfowl can obtain the nutrients they need to support their return to the spring breeding grounds in good condition. During the sanctuary period, seasonal closures of certain roads, coves/bays, and impoundments to such activities as fishing, hunting, and vehicle traffic are necessary to minimize any human-related disturbance to wintering waterfowl.

Tennessee NWR is part of the larger seven-county Kentucky Lake Area (KLA), one of the State’s top three waterfowl sites. Numerous State WMAs and private land waterfowl impoundments are within this seven county landscape, all with potentials to provide duck foraging and sanctuary requirements. Tennessee NWR strives to provide sufficient waterfowl foraging habitat to sustain at least 50% of the KLA population of 202,000 ducks for 110 days (22.2 million duck use-days (DUD)) and 75% of the Canada goose population of 28,000 for 90 days (2.5 million goose use-days (GUD)). The duck population objective was derived from the 1970-79 average KLA Midwinter Inventory for nine species of ducks plus a separate wood duck objective added to create the total. The Canada goose population objective was arrived at by averaging the Refuge’s annual mid-October through March Canada goose population for the 5-year period from 1985 through 1989.


Canada Geese

Canada Geese with goslings. Credit: Clayton Ferrell, SFWS

Canada Geese with goslings. Credit: Clayton Ferrell, USFWS

For migrant Canada Geese, Tennessee NWR is one of the three major wintering regions for those overwintering in the southeast. Specifically, Tennessee NWR provides sanctuary to meet the life-history needs for South James Bay (SJB) and Mississippi Valley Goose populations (MVP). In the 1980's this refuge often wintered more than 40,000 migrant Canada geese. Recent numbers have ranged between 4,000 and 8,000. Very mild winters and/or numerous management actions in more northern states and Canada could be limiting factors. History has shown that very harsh winters may double or even triple over-wintering densities.

An expanding population of resident Canada geese is threatening the ability of the Refuge to manage for migratory waterfowl by damaging habitat during the growing season. Impacts on agriculture crops threaten the profitability of the cooperative farming program and reduce the quantity of grain available to migratory waterfowl. Damage to moist soil vegetation likely results in a decrease quality of this habitat in some locations. Resident Canada goose numbers are controlled via early resident Canada goose hunts conducted on Tennessee NWR. These hunts reduce excessive competition for forage between resident Canada geese and other waterfowl, along with reducing off-refuge depredation. Waterfowl hunting, with the exception of a September goose season, is not currently allowed on the Refuge.

Tennessee NWR works in cooperation with TWRA to conduct annual banding of resident Canada geese on the Duck River Unit to monitor harvest and long-term survival of banded Canada geese. Reducing resident Canada goose numbers is critical to providing adequate foraging and winter habitat for migratory waterfowl that utilize Tennessee NWR.


Interesting Facts

  • The Canada goose is a very family-oriented bird. Usually in their second year of life, Canada geese find a mate and stay together for life. However, if one mate dies, the other will re-mate.
  • Mid-continent Mallard populations are used for Adaptive Harvest Management (USFWS) where computer models take environmental changes and biological responses over a year to predict populations sizes for waterfowl.


Last updated: February 13, 2014