Frequently Asked Questions About Waterfowl (Ducks & Geese)
Q. What are the requirements for hunters hunting ducks and geese?
All hunters 15 and over must have a valid Massachusetts hunting license, certain stamps and HIP number. See the Waterfowl Hunting page for the necessary details.
Q. Why does waterfowl hunting end at sunset when there is still plenty of light to see?
A. Shooting hours for waterfowl hunting run from ½ before sunrise until sunset. In the morning, light conditions continue to improve as the day progresses, providing adequate light to find birds that are knocked down. In the evening, light conditions are rapidly deteriorating, making it difficult to search for birds downed. Because light conditions are failing after sunset, identifying species becomes more difficult as it gets darker. Also, while light conditions may be good after sunset on a cloudless day in the middle of an open salt marsh, a waterfowler hunting in wooded swamps on a cloudy day will find it becomes quite dark within a few minutes after sunset.
Q. Are goldeneyes and buffleheads considered "sea ducks"?
A. No. While taxonomically, goldeneyes, bufflehead, and mergansers are lumped in with scoters, eiders, long tailed ducks (formerly old squaw), and harlequins in the sea duck tribe, for regulatory purposes, goldeneyes and buffleheads are considered "regular" ducks, the same as scaup or mallards and covered under the bag limits for ducks. Goldeneyes, buffleheads and mergansers are not part of the special sea duck season.
Q. I shot a duck and when I breasted the bird out, the breast muscles were full of little white things. What are they? Is it safe to eat?
A. Sarcocystis is an infection caused by a parasitic protozoan. It is commonly called Rice Breast Disease because the elongated macrocysts produced in the muscles of the breast and legs resemble grains of rice. It is non-fatal to the duck and poses no known health hazard to humans. Hunters who do not skin their birds may consume infected birds without ever noticing the infection, while hunters to skin their birds do. It is more common in puddle ducks such as black ducks and mallards than in diving species like scaup.
Q. Why don't you increase the bag limit on black ducks? I see more and more every year.
A. Waterfowl bag limits are set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While a state may be more restrictive when establishing hunting season regulations, it cannot be more liberal. The bag limit on black ducks has been kept a 1 bird a day since the mid 1980s. MassWildlife has been urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow an increase in the bag limit on black ducks, offset by a an equal period of days closed to black duck harvest within the regular duck season as a way to restore at least some traditional black duck hunting. Black ducks have declined as a breeding bird in the northeastern states, but numbers in Canada are stable or increasing and this, coupled with declining numbers northeastern waterfowl hunters, should allow for a larger bag limit. However, until the USFWS changes the bag limit, it will remain at 1.
Q.Why are the waterfowl regulations so late in getting to the town clerks and other license vendor locations?
A. Unlike local wildlife such as deer or pheasants, waterfowl are protected by the federal government under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The regulations for hunting waterfowl undergo a long and thorough review process every year. Regulations are not set until after annual production indices are determined in mid summer. Then, proposed regulations must be published in the Federal Register, followed by a public comment period, after which final regulations must be published in the Register. This entire process means that states don't know for certain what hunting seasons will be available until late summer.
The Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board then holds a public hearing (usually at the end of August) after which the date selections must be sent to a printer to have the abstracts printed and then distributed. Be aware that that day after the public hearing, , season dates and bag limits are available from the various MassWildlife offices and are also posted in the Regulations and Waterfowl Hunting web pages.
Q. Why are we not allowed to hunt Canada geese during the late season in the Cape Cod and Buzzards Bay parts of the coast waterfowl zone? There are plenty of geese.
A. The late Canada goose season did not exist until 1988. Prior to that, the only goose hunting was during the regular waterfowl season which ended January 20 most years. The late season was an extra season designed to harvest resident Canada geese, which had increased to the point of becoming nuisances, after wild geese had migrated through the state. However, we have discovered that many migrant geese that used to winter as far south as North Carolina no longer go that far.
One study found that over 70% of migrant geese from Maritime Canada now winter on Long Island, NY and along the southern New England coast line. Neck collar observations indicated that over 40% of the Canada geese now wintering along Massachusetts' southern coast are migrant geese, twice as many as allowed for a late resident goose season. You are seeing more Canada geese because more migrant birds are wintering in the southern Coastal waterfowl hunting zone.
Q. Do I need to purchase a stamp before I hunt woodcock?
A. Woodcock hunters must register for the Massachusetts HIP (Harvest Information Program), but federal and state stamps are not required for woodcock, snipe, rail or coot. More information on HIP requirements. Woodcock hunters must comply with the same 3 shell limit in their shotguns as do waterfowl hunters.
Q. I have a problem with Canada geese. I don't want them hurt, but will you come move them someplace else?
A. NO. In the late 1960s and early 1970s we did have a program to move nuisance geese, but we simply ran out of places to put them and now there are so many Canada geese in the Atlantic Flyway, nobody else wants them, either. Further, geese fly and most geese will return from great distances back to where they were captured. Fencing is the most effective way to keep geese out of an area in most cases. Please see our Canada goose information.
Q. What can I do to get rid of Canada geese?
A. No special permit is required to harass Canada geese by chasing them, making loud noises, or using scare crow type devices. However, you may not harm the birds. Often you can fence the birds away from your area. You can also develop natural barriers such as dense hedges, or remove what ever is attracting the geese in the first place. You may wish to replace areas of lawn with wood chips or low vegetation like creeping Mrytle or pachysandra which geese do not eat. See the Living with Canada geese link.
You can apply to MassWildlife to addle eggs, which prevents hatching and renesting. See Egg Addling Information on our website.
Q. Why don't all the Canada geese migrate anymore?
A. There are several populations (groups) of Canada geese found in Massachusetts, resident (breeding) geese and two distinct migratory populations.
Canada geese that breed and nest in Massachusetts (resident geese) are descendants of geese once kept in captivity to be used as live decoys. These birds were released when the use of live decoys was outlawed in 1935. Having been bred in captivity for several generations, these birds never developed a migration tradition which passed down from generation to generation in wild birds. Hence, those geese never learned to migrate, nor did their young. There were only a few geese originally and caused few problems but as the population expanded, doubling every few years, by the 1970s people began complaining about nuisance geese. So it's not that they don't migrate anymore, they never did, but with over 30,000 geese in the state now, people are certainly more aware of them.
The 2 populations of Canada geese which migrate through Massachusetts. One population called the Atlantic Population (AP) (Branta canadensis interior)breeds in northern Quebec on the Hudson Bay and Ungava Bay coasts with a few birds nesting in interior portions of the Ungava Penninsula. These birds tend to migrate south along the Hudson River and are seen in western Massachusetts. These birds begin moving through Massachusetts in October and have largely passed through by November. Few of these birds winter in Massachusetts but biologists believe that a few hundred overwinter on the Connecticut River by the Coolidge bridge in Northampton.
The other migrant population is the North Atlantic Population (NAP), largely Branta canadensis canadensis. This population nests in Labrador and Newfoundland and migrates later, generally not leaving their nesting grounds until November and December, though some may stage on Prince Edward Island before moving south. This is a maritime population which normally stays within 10 miles of the coast. These birds winter primarily in southern New England and Long Island, NY but occur as far south as New Jersey. A significant portion of geese wintering in Buzzards Bay and along Cape Cod are NAP birds. The number of NAP geese wintering inland varies with the winter snow conditions. If we have extensive snow cover in December, these geese continue to move south to the coast but if December is open some of these geese will overwinter with our resident geese.
Q. I am seeing more and more swans in Massachusetts. Where did these beautiful birds come from?
A. The swans you are seeing are mute swans, and like English sparrows and starlings, they are not native to North America, but an introduced species. Originally brought in from Europe and Asia as ornamental waterfowl to grace the ponds of Long Island estates, some escaped to the wild where they became established, spread up and down the coast and are found in many inland waters. Highly aggressive and territorial, there is evidence that they are displacing native waterfowl and can be destructive to some aquatic habitats, destroying more vegetation than they actually eat.
Mute swans are protected under state regulations and may not be hunted. They are not protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty as they were placed on a long list of exotic bird species that removed protection under this treaty. MassWildlife can issue permits in certain situations to addle eggs and destroy mute swans.
Q. Why is it okay to feed birds in my back yard, but I'm told not to feed waterfowl?
A. Actually, it is MassWildlife's policy not to feed any wildlife, but there are no state laws prohibiting feeding. Unlike the birds in your backyard that come to your feeder, eat, and leave, most waterfowl tend to hang around the sites where they are fed. Often, these sites are in municipal areas that are not suitable for most of the other requirements of waterfowl. Artificial feeding can disrupt the normal activities of waterfowl, concentrate the ducks and geese into larger flocks that may increase the chances of disease outbreaks, and not meet their nutritional requirements, particularly in late winter as the breeding season approaches.
Q. The town owns some property by a pond where people like to feed ducks and geese that is getting terribly dirty with droppings and feathers. The town would like to try signage discouraging feeding. Do you have any signs?
A. We don't have signs, but can suggest some "friendly" text which has been used successfully in some locations: "Keep Wild Things Wild! Please don't feed the ducks and geese. This can cause the birds to lose their natural fear of people and impact their ability to survive on their own."
Q. There's a duck nesting next to my swimming pool. What should I do?
A. Legally, you cannot destroy or move a bird's nest or eggs. However, neither should you do anything to make the site more attractive to the duck, like feeding it. Many of these nests will never hatch for any of a number of reasons, but if yours does, you will want to herd the duck and brood away from your pool. Ducklings that fall into the pool will likely be unable to get back out. Since a hen is likely to return in future years, you should try to discourage the duck when it first shows up by harassing it, for which no permit is required.
Other Waterfowl Information
Living With Canada Geese -- History of how Canada geese came to be nesting in Massachusetts and tips on avoiding conflicts.
MassWildlife's Response to Avian Influenza -- Find out what biologists are doing to address concerns about avian influenza. Read a description of how MassWildlife biologists capture geese for taking samples and banding these birds.