A special treat in the fall at Goose Pond is to see swirling clouds of mallards above recently picked corn fields. This was Maddie’s first fall of seeing this amazing sight and she could hardly believe these large flocks were comprised of the familiar mallard! Mark and Sue have seen clouds of mallards hundreds of time but always enjoy watching them.
The mallard flock at Goose Pond numbered around 500 until mid-October when a northern flight increased the count to 3,000 mallards. Shortly after the increase we noticed clouds of mallards above the corn fields.
Goose Pond and the local area provide ideal habitat for mallards in the fall. The Audubon land provides an excellent refuge and the thousands of acres of corn fields in the Arlington Prairie provide foraging habitat.
The mallards circle and circle potential fields until choosing a field in which to feed. When they finally land they are constantly moving, gleaning the field for waste kernels of corn. Sometimes when the fields are full of mallards it looks like the whole field is shifting and bobbing as the birds move outward to feed. Small flocks then get up and skip over the ones in front to get to their turn at searching new ground.
Before Goose Pond became a refuge in the 1970s, large flocks of mallards were not seen on the pond because of hunting pressure. Savvy mallards started to return to the area once the west pond was bought by Audubon and hunting was discontinued on the pond. John Kaiser, a long-time Audubon supporter, remembers hunting around Goose Pond with his father in the early 1970s and the dramatic positive impact the refuge had on mallard numbers in the area.
One of many good memories Kaiser has includes the day when he was hunting a 160 acre picked corn field three miles west of Goose Pond. Kaiser thought that every single mallard from Goose Pond was looking to feed in that field. “There were thousands of birds above me and I could still see birds coming from Goose Pond. It was incredible to see the mallards spiraling down from high above. It sounded like a jet plane from the wings and their chattering.” John had a young lab that went crazy running around in circles with the mallards above him. The ducks were not impacted by the dog.
If you get a chance to observe large numbers of mallards in cornfields you will see how active they are, that the drakes (greenheads) outnumber the hens, and that black ducks and pintails are also mixed in the flock. In late fall, in some years, 1-2% of the flock is comprised of black ducks.
When Goose Pond freezes over and there is no snow cover the mallards roost on the Wisconsin River west of Poynette and return to the Arlington Prairie corn fields for feeding. Some years Goose Pond opens up after a few days and the mallards return. Usually they stay until winter sets in when snow covers their food supply. If you have not been out this fall you may still check out Goose Pond and look for “swirling clouds” of mallards.
Written by Mark and Sue Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary Managers, and Maddie Dumas, Land Steward, Goose Pond Sanctuary - firstname.lastname@example.org