Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Numbers of adult ducks found at individual dens ranged from 0 to 67. The average number of ducks found in and around den entrances was used as an index of fox predation rates on ducks. Predation rate indices ranged from 0.01 duck/den in Iowa to 1.80 ducks/den in eastern North Dakota. Average annual predation rate indices for dabbling ducks in a 3-county intensive study area in eastern North Dakota were closely correlated with May pond numbers (r = 0.874, P < 0.10) and duck population size (r = 0.930, P < 0.05), but all species were not affected in the same manner or to the same degree. Drought had least effect on populations and predation rate indices of mallards and gadwalls and had greatest effect on those of northern pintails and northern shovelers. Hens of early nesting species were more vulnerable to foxes than hens of late nesting species. Predation rate indices were expanded to estimate total numbers of ducks taken by fox families during the denning season. Estimated numbers of dabbling ducks taken annually by individual fox families in 2 physiographic regions comprising the intensive study area ranged from 16.1 to 65.9. Predation was highest during wet years and lowest during dry years and averaged lower, but was more variable, in the region where tillage was greatest and wetland water levels were least stable. Predation in the intensive study area averaged 2.97 adult dabbling ducks/km2/year and represented an estimated average annual loss of 13.5% of hen and 4.5% of drake populations in that area. Of 5,402 individual food items found at dens in the intensive study area, 24% were adult ducks. Ducks made up an estimated maximum average of 16% of the prey biomass required by fox families during the denning season.
The average annual take of adult ducks by foxes in the midcontinent area was estimated to be about 900,000. This estimate included both scavenged and fox-killed ducks, as well as ducks taken after the denning season. Fox impact on midcontinent ducks was greatest in eastern North Dakota where both fox and duck densities were relatively high. Predation in that area was likely increased by environmental factors, especially intensive agriculture that concentrated nesting and reduced prey abundance.
Predation by red foxes and other predators severely reduces duck production in the midcontinent area. Effective management to increase waterfowl production will necessitate coping with or reducing high levels of predation.