Each year beginning in late July through mid-August, state wildlife officials hire crop dusters to fly around Oklahoma lakes and drop seed from their planes that they hope will become an appetizing buffet for migrating ducks.
The meal that state wildlife officials are planting for ducks is Japanese millet, a common annual grass that is very similar to barnyard grass.
“It is ice cream food to ducks, particularly dabbling ducks,” said Alan Stacey, wetland habitat biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “They love it.”
This year, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation seeded a total of 4,300 acres on five Oklahoma lakes: Kaw (2,000 acres), Eufaula (1,000), Texoma (900), Oologah (300) and Keystone (100).
The seeding occurs in late summer when the lakes are low, uncovering the large, expansive mud flats on the upper regions of the reservoirs at the confluence of the rivers. The timing of the planting is critical. Ideally, the seed is dropped in the wet mud just as the water comes off it.
“They (crop dusting planes) will hit the shorelines down below the upper end of the lakes occasionally, but as a general rule, we are on the upper regions,” Stacey said. That's where the water is very shallow. That's where these mud flats get exposed. I am talking hundreds and hundreds of acres.”
The crop dusters drop the seed in the mud. Then as the water levels hopefully rise in the coming weeks, the seed will turn into duck food, just in time for the thousands of migrating ducks and other birds that fly through Oklahoma on their way south for the winter.
“Most of our migrant ducks, not the wintering ducks, but the migrants are going to get triggered by one of the cold northerners right around Halloween,” Stacey said. “That's typical in Oklahoma.”