Find Duck Foods - Find the Ducks!

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1A Hunting in Texas Guide Service

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Duck Foods Commonly Found Wild in Texas
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Some of us have access to prime agricultural lands where the landowners and farmers help to attract and hold ducks for duck hunting. Some may have access to well managed wetland projects. Others are forced to hunt public lands and waters where the only duck food available is what grows wild. This article is for those hunters. I hope it helps.

If you do any preseason scouting, and you should, these are the plants you would want to find. Ducks will always follow their bill, and a duck's bill will readily eat the seeds, plant parts, and/or roots of all these wetland plants. Find these plants and you will find good duck hunting.
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Should you decide that you want some of these plants growing in your duck pond, BE SURE TO CHECK FEDERAL, STATE AND LOCAL REGULATIONS regarding the planting, harvesting and/or transplanting of any plant you might think about propagating. Wetlands are sensitive and important habitat. Think about the long term impact of what you're doing, not just about shooting a bunch of ducks!
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An example or two of each type of plant is shown to illustrate what it is you are wanting to find, but keep in mind that the actual appearance of different species within a genus, and even different varieties within a specie, may vary greatly. Look at humans and you can see what I mean. We are all the same specie, but we vary greatly in appearance. It's the same thing with these plants. Just look for the basic shape of the plant, where it is growing, the pattern and position of leaves, stems and flowers, and hopefully, that will lead you to some great duck hunting.
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Duckweed   Members of the genus Lemna. This is a floating plant. There are nine species found in Texas. The Star Duckweed resembles a series of stars strung together, thus the name. In the other species, the individual plants resemble a lily pad but are VERY SMALL, usually 1/8 inch to 1/3 inch across. Despite it's small individual size, under proper conditions, this plant can form VERY LARGE mats, sometimes a hundred yards across and an inch or more thick.  They don't call this stuff duckweed for nothing fellas; ducks LOVE IT! Seek this plant out!
 
duckweed Scientific name: Lemna minor
Common name: Common Duckweed

This is a floating plant that is easily transplanted to your duck pond. Find it in the wild, then use a wet burlap sack or pillow case (old one, that the wife gave you permission to use first) to keep it plenty moist in transport. Simply dump it in the shallow, shady to partially shaded areas of your pond. Do this as early in the year as you can to give it all summer to multiply. It is PRIME DUCK FOOD!

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Pondweed    Members of the genus Potamogeton. Over fifty species are recorded in Texas. Some are emergents and others are submergent vegetation. Some are fine leafed, others broad leafed. All yield seeds important to ducks in the early Fall. This is great for early teal seasons. Most ducks will also eat the plant itself, and large ducks even grub up the tubers (roots) once the plants are gone. Here is an example of a fine leafed submergent specie, and a broad leafed emergent specie.
 
sago pondweed
Scientific name: Potamogeton pectinatus
Common name: Sago Pondweed

Submergent plant, found growing in shallow freshwater ponds and lakes. Produces large amounts of seeds on heads extending above waterline. Propagules and plants may be purchased from several wildlife plant nurseries. It is difficult to plant tubers properly since each one must be weighted to prevent it from floating away. It is also pretty expensive to get sufficiently started in a pond. My 2007 price was about $250 per acre, but once established it should rarely take any additional stock to keep it going, and it's well worth it if you want to attract and hold a lot of ducks throughout the season.
 

iIlinois pondweed Scientific name: Potamogeton illinoensis
Common name: Illinois Pondweed

Mainly an emergent plant found growing in very shallow water or in moist soils. Nursery stock is available but not common. Wild stock is very uncommon. Like the Sago Pondweed, ducks relish the numerous seeds and even dig up the root stock of this pondweed, so it's well worth the trouble to find and propagate this plant. Remember, the seeds are hollow, so they float. Each must be weighted when planted. Started plants are the easier method of propagation, but much more expensive. My 2007 cost was about $300 an acre. Once you get it stated good though, replanting is only needed occasionally.

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Smartweed    Members of the genus Polygonum. Twenty six species are to be found in Texas. The stems of these plants appear to have many knots on them, so they are also known as knotweed. The stem bends at each of these knots, resembling a knee, and the genus name, polygonum, literally translates to "many knees". The small black seeds from these plants are very important duck food in Fall. Several species can be found almost anywhere there is moist soil. The very small seeds are held within the small, pink or white flowers. Placing several aluminum pans under a stand of these plants can catch the seeds as they drop for transplanting, or you can strip the mature flowers and rub them to expose the seeds.
 
Smartweed Scientific name: Polygonum amphibium
Common name: Longroot Smartweed

Submergent or emergent plant found growing in very shallow waters or in moist soils. This is EASY to get growing in or around your duck pond, starting with any of the many types found growing wild. When I can find it, I prefer to plant and hunt around the larger varieties of these plants though. The bigger plants have bigger seeds that drop later in the year. The bigger ducks tend to prefer these, and I prefer to shoot the bigger ducks. CHECK LOCAL LAWS regarding your found specie of smartweed before planting. It is considered an noxious weed in many areas. It is so easy to grow, that it can and will take over any moist soil area. Lowland farmers and those with irrigated fields will HATE YOU if you plant it around their agriculture. BE CAREFUL if choosing to propagate this plant!

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Click Here to see more pictures of Smartweed plants in Texas
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Sorrels and Dock    Members of the genus Rumex. Closely related to Smartweed. Over twenty species are found in Texas. Two of these species that can be of importance to Texas duck hunters are Rumex aquaticus (Western Dock), and Rumex crispus (Curly Leafed Dock). They can be important because; they are very commonly found in Texas, will grow in a variety of soils, have heavy seed crops, drop seed over an extended period of time including teal season and early duck season, it is easy to harvest the seed, easy to propagate the plant, and ducks really like the seeds, especially teal.
 
Western Dock
Photo Credit; R. S. Steenbeke
Scientific name: Rumex aquaticus
Common name: Western Dock

The dried fruits (achenes) may lie dormant in the soil for years then, when the area gets flooded, the achenes float off. The three-part outer sheath is wide and flattened, which makes the achenes lighter than water, so they float for quite awhile before becoming waterlogged and sinking. The soaking removes the sheath and takes the seed within the fruit out of dormancy. It will then sprout when the area begins to dry out. For this reason, the plant is most often found in spots that were flooded last year. Roadside ditches are a perfect example. Riverside or creekside flood plains are another.

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Click here to see more pictures of Dock plants in Texas
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Coontail    Members of the genus Ceratophyllum. Only two specie are in Texas; the Spineless Hornwort and Coon's Tail (a.k.a. coontail). Coontail is far and away the most common of the two. Coontail resembles Hydrilla, but Hydrilla is considered a noxious plant and may NOT be transported in Texas. Be careful if harvesting Coontail. Make sure that is what you really have. Coontail has a soft feel to it, and the stems break easily. Hydrilla feels rough, prickly.
 
Coon's Tail or Coontail
Photo Credit: Bernd Haynold
Scientific name: Ceratophyllum demersum
Common name: Coon's Tail or Coontail

This is a submergent plant only. In Summer, it can form dense, thick mats in shallow water. In the Fall, ducks will eat every scrap of this plant. The soft leaves and stems make a great salad for them. Replanting may be needed if the ducks eat it up too badly, and they generally will. I have had some luck growing this plant from pieces of stems, but much better luck getting it to take when transplanting whole plants. It must be constantly submerged in shallow water to live and grow well. Nursery stock is not readily available and wild coontail is getting really hard to find in Texas.

Hydrilla   Hydrilla very much resembles Coontail, but it grows much faster, can grow in deeper water, can grow in cloudier water, and reproduces well from just pieces and parts of the plants. So well in fact that it quickly forms impenetrable mats of green that can block boat traffic totally. When Winter freezes finally kill back the Hydrilla, the decaying mass can remove all the oxygen from the water and cause a fish die off. Because of the problems it causes, DO NOT GET CAUGHT transporting this stuff around. Hydrilla is considered a noxious plant and may NOT be transported in Texas, not even by accident, like on your boat's hull or trailer after a fishing trip. Ducks will readily eat the leaves of this plant though, so if it is already present, like on public hunting waters, seek it out, just like the ducks will.
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Barnyardgrass    One specie from the genus Echinochloa. Four other species may be found in Texas, but this one is of the most importance to duck hunters since it is the most widespread. If they can be found, cockspur grass and jungle rice, which are other echinochloa, are also duck magnets!  Barnyardgrass is the wild variety of Japanese Millet, and we all know how much ducks love Jap Millet! They really like this wild stuff, too. Of course, it doesn't drop the amount of seed, or as large of seed as does hybrid Jap Millet, but this is legal to hunt over everywhere, and you can even manipulate it, since it's considered native vegetation. 
 
Barnyardgrass
Photo Credit: Michael Becker
Scientific name: Echinochloa crus-galli
Common name: Barnyardgrass

This is an emergent plant only. It can be found growing in moist soils across all of Central, East and South Texas. If flooded in Fall, ducks will pile into it like you wouldn't believe. Seeds can be easily stripped off mature heads and transplanted to your duck hunting area. Do NOT bury seeds more than 1/10 inch deep. Do not let the ground dry out for more than a week at a time, but do not flood until the plants are dropping seed or just about to drop seed. Cover no more than half the plant when you do flood it. This plant does best, and offers the best hunting, in impoundments where the water level can be manipulated at will.

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Arrowhead   Members of the genus Sagittaria. There are nine species found in Texas, all are submergent/emergent plants that can grow in shallow water or in moist soils. One of it's common names is Duck Potato. Anytime they put "duck" into the name, it's a pretty sure bet that ducks like it. This stuff they REALLY LIKE!
 
Arrowhead, Wapato, Duck Potato Scientific name: Sagittaria latifolia
Common name: Arrowhead, Wapato, Duck Potato

Ducks will really get on the seeds of this plant, and agressively grub the roots as well. Nursery stock is readily available but expensive. 2007 cost me over $200 an acre. Replanting is only needed if ducks can get to this plant all season. Then, they will eat it ALL up! If you can keep the ducks off it for a couple years though, the plant will quickly spread to all suitable areas of your wetlands, and then, replanting should seldom ever be needed. An acre is a swath over 20 feet wide and all the way around a 5 acre pond. Even if you did have to replant every year, that $200 goes a long way.

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Sedges    There are many genera, and species of sedges within those genera. Well over 100 species can be found in Texas, principally in the genera: Carex (common sedges), Cyperus (flat sedges and nut sedges) and Rhynchospora (beak sedges). They can be found in nearly every wetland area, moist soil area, and even in occasionally wet areas. When in or near water, the seeds from these plants can be important to resident Texas ducks, like the Mottle Duck and Black Bellied Whistling Duck. The seeds generally drop in Summer, however, so are gone by the time that regular duck season rolls around. A few drop late enough to be of help to migrating teal though, and to teal hunters. You can identify a sedge by the triangular cross section of the main stem, versus the ovate or circular cross section shape of rushes. Look for seed heads to be present and rub the heads in the palm of your hand to check for seeds. They are SMALL! Ducks seem to have no trouble finding them though, and if they are there, the ducks will be, too.
 
Yellow Nut Sedge Scientific name: Cyperus esculentus
Common name: Yellow Nutsedge

Emergent plant that will grow anywhere the soil stays moist for most of the Summer. The seeds are usually dropped and gone long before the ducks get to Texas, but large ducks will agrresively grub the roots all Fall and Winter for the "nuts" that earn this plant it's name. It is a native plant, so may be manipulated and still hunted over. Light disking really helps expose those nuts and draw the ducks. If not immediately flooded, it will draw everything else, too, like wild hogs, deer and turkey. They all like those nuts. The domesticated variety of this plant is called Chufa. It draws ducks GREAT if the hogs expose enough nuts before flooding, but don't manipulate it in any way. That would be considered baiting.

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Rushes    There are over 80 species of rush found in Texas. They belong principally to the Genera; Juncus (common rush), Scleria (nutrush), Eleocharis (spikerush) and Scirpus (bulrush). Rushes are actually part of the sedge family, Cyperaceae, and like sedges, most species tend to drop their seeds in Summer, which is too early to be of much help to duck hunters. A few though, do carry the seeds until late Summer or even into early fall, and can be of help in Teal season; maybe even a bit of the very early regular season. Seeds are present in various shaped clusters, depending on specie. The nutrush have clusters the size and shape of acorns. That is how they earn their name, not because of nut like growths on the roots, as in the nut sedges.
 
Common Rush, Soft Rush Juncus effusus
Common Rush

Ignore this one. Seeds are almost always long gone before teal season even, let alone regular duck season. Even if they are there in season, they are super small, so ducks don't go out of their way to find them. If you can do it without getting in trouble, replace this plant with some nutrush or spikerush.

Low nutrush
Scleria verticillata
Low Nutrush

Even though the seeds will be present by July or August in Texas, the nut rush can sometimes be of value to the waterfowl hunter during Teal season. I assume that the seeds being tightly clustered into the nut like shape that gives this plant it's name, is why they tend to stay on these plants a bit longer than other rush that form seeds at the same time. It is a good alternative planting to Juncus (common rush) and Scirpus (bulrush).

Pale spikerush Eleocharis macrostachya
Pale Spikerush

Spikerush tend to drop too early, but this one specie will hang on until Teal season anyway, IF summer rains are a bit later than normal. A fairly dry Summer followed by a tropical storm in August can bring on a huge amount of seed very quickly. Look at all of the flowers present on these Texas spikerush in August, that will form seeds in September; TEAL SEASON!

Green Bulrush Scirpus atrovirens
Green Bulrush

Bulrush drops WAY too early to be of value to duck hunters, except that they do give us healthy ducks by supplying much needed nutrition during the Summer, when they can't fly well due to molting. If you have breeding Mottle Ducks or Whistlers around, you may want to keep these plants, otherwise, replace them with a Fall and Winter duck food.

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