Waterfowl in North Carolina


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The hunting of all migratory game birds (waterfowl, doves, rails, etc.) is regulated by the federal government under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Each year, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services establishes hunting season guidelines or frameworks. These include season length, bag limits, shooting hours, and the range of hunting dates. States may set their seasons within these frameworks. Although the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) has ultimate authority for establishing seasons, the process is a collaborative one involving state game and fish agencies as well. For many years, the annual regulations cycle was divided into two components. The early cycle involved the setting of waterfowl seasons that begin prior to late September (September Canada goose and September teal seasons) and seasons for many webless species (doves, rails, woodcock). The late regulations cycle includes the traditional waterfowl seasons occurring after late September. Starting with the 2016-17 seasons, the process has changed and occurs much earlier. Now, regulatory decisions for all species will occur on the same schedule and seasons will be set in the spring of each year prior to the upcoming hunting seasons.

This collaborative process occurs primarily through the various Flyway Councils and the USFWS with input from various conservation organizations and other groups. North Carolina is part of the Atlantic Flyway and our regulatory communication is handled through the Atlantic Flyway Council and Atlantic Flyway Technical Section. The Atlantic Flyway Technical Section is comprised of biological staff from the various member states. This group works closely with biological staff from the USFWS and others reviewing population survey data (population size, harvest, survival rates, harvest rates, etc.). After review of annual and long-term datasets and formulation of harvest strategies, the Technical Section recommends hunting season guidelines to the Atlantic Flyway Council. The Council is generally comprised of agency directors (or their designees). The Council takes under consideration the recommendation of the Technical Section and may either approve, modify or disapprove them. The Council then forwards their recommendations to the USFWS for their consideration. The Service Regulations Committee (as part of the USFWS) then formulates annual season regulations considering input from all 4 Flyway Councils. As a final step, proposed regulations are then issued and can be commented on by any agency, group, or individual before they become final.

To hunt waterfowl in North Carolina, individuals must possess various licenses, permits, stamps, and certifications. Specifically, hunters must obtain the following:

  • A state hunting license. There are several types available.
  • North Carolina Waterfowl Privilege *
  • For resident hunters, this additional privilege and fee is not required if you hold a Sportsman’s license (lifetime, disabled, or annual), or a Comprehensive Hunting license (lifetime or annual). You are required to purchase this additional privilege for all other license types. For non-resident hunters this fee is not required for Lifetime Sportsman’s license holders, but is required for those non- residents holding a short-term or basic non-resident hunting license.
  • Federal Duck Stamp
  • HIP (Harvest Information Program) Certification. Certification is free of charge. Please note that HIP certification is required for each state that you hunt. Non-resident hunters that have been certified in another state, must be HIP certified in North Carolina as well.

Please see the current North Carolina Inland Fishing, Hunting and Trapping Regulations Digest for additional information regarding license types and costs.

* Hunters are no longer required to carry the North Carolina duck stamp while hunting for waterfowl; however, the current year’s duck stamp will be available for collecting purposes. Call 1-888-248-6834 for more information.

Non-toxic shot is required for hunting waterfowl and coots. In addition to this general requirement; on posted waterfowl impoundments on Game Lands, it is unlawful to hunt with or have in possession any shotgun shell containing lead or toxic shot while hunting, except shotgun shells containing lead buckshot may be used while deer hunting. Nontoxic shot is also required for the taking of captive-reared mallards on shooting preserves, in field trials and during bona fide dog training activities.
For a listing of non-toxic shot approved by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service see:


Download the PDF:
Public Waterfowl Hunting Opportunities (PDF - 80KB)

Why Report Bird Bands?

Bird banding data are often critical components in both waterfowl research and management. Individual marking of birds makes possible studies of dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, harvest and survival rates, reproductive success and population growth. Reporting bands makes this data available to waterfowl managers, and is an integral part of the regulation process.

Please report all bands online at www.reportband.gov

Please be aware that starting July, 2017, the toll-free telephone number that had previously been available to report bird bands is being discontinued.  This discontinuation is collectively due to past problems with accurate data recording, high rates of dropped calls and budget cuts.  People calling this toll-free number will be directed to report their bird bands using the REPORTBAND website or by mail.  We rely heavily on your cooperation in reporting banded birds to help in their management, and we would like to thank you for your continued support in this effort.

Baiting as it applies to waterfowl hunting is a controversial and often misunderstood subject. Therefore, it is incumbent upon every waterfowl hunter to understand all baiting laws, both state and federal, as they pertain to waterfowl hunting.

Both state and federal law prohibit the take of migratory game birds by the aid of baiting (placing feed such as corn, wheat, salt or other feed to constitute a lure or enticement), or on or over any baited areas. Hunters should be aware that a baited area is considered to be baited for 10 days after the removal of the bait. Although state law prohibits take of migratory game birds within 300 yards of a baited area, federal law prohibits take on or over any baited area which could serve as a lure or attraction. This “zone of influence” may extend a much greater distance. Substantial penalties for violations apply. For questions, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Resident in Charge in Raleigh, N.C. at (919) 856-4786.

Hunters should refer to the current North Carolina Inland Fishing, Hunting and Trapping Regulations Digest for additional information regarding baiting and waterfowl hunting. For additional information on federal baiting regulations click here.

Public Hunting Opportunities

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Habitat Management

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Habitat Management
North Carolina Partners Program – NC Partners is a cooperative program between the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited and the Natural Resources Conservation Service whose goal is to assist landowners with developing wetland habitat on their property.

o   NC Partners Fact Sheet (PDF)

o   Waterfowl Habitat on Prior Converted Wetlands in North Carolina

o   Waterfowl Habitat Management Handbook for the Lower Mississippi River Valley (PDF)

o   Moist Soil Plant Photo Guide (PDF)

Control of Invasive Aquatic Plants – Effective management of wetland areas for waterfowl and other wetland species can be complicated by the presence and spread of invasive plant species.  Phragmites (Phragmites australis) is common in many managed wetlands and control can be difficult.  The following are several sources that describe management strategies including chemical control.

o   Phragmites-Chapter 13.9 in Biology and Control of Aquatic Plants (PDF)– A Best Management Practices Handbook (published by Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Foundation)

o   Landowners Guide For Controlling Phragmites (PDF) – This guide was written for landowners in Nebraska, but management strategies are similar for North Carolina.

Waterfowl Banding

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In addition to traditional aerial surveys on breeding and wintering areas, the Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program (HIP), and the Waterfowl Parts Collection Survey, data from the use of leg bands remains a critical component of waterfowl research and management. Banding data from game birds is often an essential part in the process of setting annual hunting regulations, and can be used when determining longevity, dispersal and migration, changes in populations, productivity and survival, harvest rates, social structure, and behavior.

Each year federal, state, and provincial wildlife agencies spend considerable time and manpower to band waterfowl. Banding effort is normally focused on waterfowl breeding areas during the preseason banding period which runs from July – September. Approximately 200,000 ducks, 100,000 geese, and 1,000 swans are banded during this period each year in North America. Most prairie banding crews will target mallards, but significant numbers of other dabbling ducks are also banded. The most commonly banded species are mallards, followed by Canada geese. Blue-winged teal (third) are also banded in large numbers as the result of being captured along with mallards in the prairies.

A variety of techniques are used to capture and band waterfowl. Most prairie ducks are caught in baited traps. Most Canada geese and some diving ducks are caught by herding molting, flightless birds into drive traps. Wood ducks are caught in nest boxes, in baited swim-in or walk-in traps, or using rocket nets. Wintering ducks are caught in swim-in traps or rocket nets.


 Example of Rocket Nets
Example of Rocket Nets
 Examples of Wood Ducks Nest Box
Examples of Wood Ducks Nest Box
 Examples of swim-in traps
Examples of Swim-In Traps

Many arctic-nesting geese are also fitted with color-coded neck collars in addition to a leg band. Neck collar studies have been used to delineate the wintering grounds of various subspecies and subpopulations of Canada Geese. In addition, neck collar studies can help differentiate goose populations on the wintering grounds, as well as between migrant and resident populations. This information has been used to provide protection to vulnerable populations and subspecies, like the Atlantic Population Canada goose.

In addition to the standard aluminum leg band, occasionally a bird will be double banded. The additional band is either a reward band (green) or a color-coded leg band so the bird can be identified from a distance. Reward bands are most often used to estimate band reporting rates for a particular species. Reward bands are inscribed with a reward amount which a hunter can claim by reporting the band number to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

When a hunter reports a band, they become an integral part of waterfowl management in North America. Reporting leg bands is now very easy. All that is required is the hunter contact the Bird Banding Laboratory online at www.reportband.gov with the band number and how, when and where the bird was found. YOU KEEP THE BAND! After the band has been reported, the Bird Banding Lab will send a Certificate of Appreciation indicating the bander and when and where the bird was banded. For more information on the Bird Banding Laboratory see http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl/.

In addition to their utility as waterfowl management tools, leg and neck bands are cherished by waterfowl hunters as reminders of memorable hunts, or as representative of their hunting skills. Regardless, they are important to both waterfowl managers and hunters alike.

Each year, state, federal, and provincial wildlife agencies devote considerable manpower and funds to band waterfowl. Effort is focused on the preseason banding period (July – September) when most waterfowl are associated with breeding areas. Hunter recoveries of waterfowl banded during the preseason banding period can offer insights into the production areas that feed birds into migration and wintering regions.

The following maps show preseason banding locations of common species which winter in North Carolina or pass through the state during migration. These maps were created from data supplied by the United States Geological Survey & United States Fish & Wildlife Service for waterfowl recovered before the 2007 hunting season. All leg band recoveries used to produce these maps were shot by North Carolina hunters or found dead. While these locations can indicate production areas for ducks wintering in the Tarheel state, caution should be used when interpreting these maps. Because banding effort is not always equal across a species geographic range, some production areas may not be represented by leg band recoveries alone. For example, leg band recoveries of northern pintails might suggest that birds wintering in North Carolina originate primarily from the U.S. and Canadian prairies. However, research utilizing satellite transmitters suggest the primary area producing Atlantic Flyway pintails is Southern James Bay and eastern Hudson Bay, east across much of Quebec to Newfoundland and Labrador. Click on the links below to view leg band recovery maps for individual species.

American wigeon 
(PDF - 555KB)
(PDF - 554KB)
Wood duck 
(PDF - 456KB)
Ring-necked duck
(PDF - 608KB)
American green-winged teal 
(PDF - 668KB)
Northern pintail 
(PDF - 560KB)
(PDF - 607KB)
Lesser scaup 
(PDF- 431KB)
(PDF - 613KB)
American black duck
(PDF - 529KB)
(PDF - 608KB)

Each year, staff waterfowl biologists with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) coordinate statewide banding of wood ducks during the preseason banding period which runs from July – September. Because there is no range-wide index of abundance for wood ducks, banding data is a critical tool for assessing flyway wide and long-term changes in wood duck populations. The pre-season period remains the most critical period, as banding information from this time is more reliable when determining annual recovery (used as an index to harvest) and survival rates. Since 1990, WRC staff and cooperators have banded approximately 11,000 wood ducks during the annual preseason period (Figure 1). The pre-season banding goal for wood ducks in North Carolina is 1,550, which is distributed between WRC (600 total) and 6 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuges (950 total).
Two techniques are generally used to capture wood ducks in North Carolina, depending on the area of the state in which the banding takes place. In eastern North Carolina, biologists primarily utilize “bait-trapping”. Wood ducks are enticed to an area with grain, usually whole- kernel corn, and captured by firing a net powered by rockets over the birds as they feed at the bait site. In the Piedmont and western regions of the state, biologists use either rocket nets or swim-in traps, depending on the location. Swim-in traps are cages constructed of welded wire. Ducks enter the trap through a funneling device to feed on bait placed inside the trap. Once inside, they cannot determine how to exit back through the funnel and are captured.

After capture, biologists determine the sex and age of the bird using body and wing plumage, molt patterns or sexual characteristics. A numbered, federal aluminum leg band is placed on the tarsus prior to release.

To see a map of leg band recoveries of wood ducks banded during the preseason period in North Carolina click here.

Bird banding data are often critical components in both waterfowl research and management. Individual marking of birds makes possible studies of dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, harvest and survival rates, reproductive success and population growth. Reporting bands makes this data available to waterfowl managers, and is an integral part of the regulation process.

Please report all bands online at www.reportband.gov