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Wildlife Monographs

Red Fox Predation on Breeding Ducks
in Midcontinent North America

Study Areas


Data on number and composition of ducks at midcontinent red fox rearing dens were obtained from Iowa, Manitoba, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin (Fig. 1). This contiguous area includes, in addition to the southeastern one-third of the Prairie Pothole Region, forested lands with abundant wetlands on the north and east, well drained farmlands with scattered woodlots on the southeast, and well-drained semiarid plains on the south and west. Each state and province was a sample area, except Wisconsin and Minnesota were combined for convenience, and North Dakota and South Dakota were divided into areas lying east and west of the Missouri River to reflect major physiographic differences. Study emphasis was on the Prairie Pothole Region, especially in North Dakota.

gif -- North Dakota PPR

Fig. 2. Major physiographic regions of North Dakota showing the Prairie Pothole Region and locations of the 3-county intensive study area and 6 townships selected for detailed study. Map adapted from Stewart and Kantrud (1973).

About 15% of the Prairie Pothole Region is in North Dakota where it encompasses 94,245 km2 and makes up about one-half of the state (Stewart and Kantrud 1974, Johnson and Sargeant 1977:4-5). The pothole region of North Dakota is comprised of 2 major physiographic regions, the Drift Plain and the Missouri Coteau (Fig. 2). Both physiographic regions have an abundance of wetland basins, but, because of differences in topography and land use, wetland water levels are less stable on the Drift Plain than on the Missouri Coteau. The Drift Plain is flat to gently rolling, has a well-integrated natural drainage system, and contains many seasonal wetlands and moderate numbers of semipermanent wetlands. (Wetland classification is according to Stewart and Kantrud [1971].) It is intensely farmed for small grain production and has limited livestock grazing (Fig. 3). The Missouri Coteau has moderately to steeply rolling topography, has a poorly-integrated natural drainage system, and has many seasonal and semipermanent wetlands. Agriculture in the Missouri Coteau is predominantly mixed livestock grazing and small grain farming (Fig. 4). As in the rest of the Prairie Pothole Region, precipitation patterns in both physiographic regions vary greatly within and between years. This affects the number and distribution of breeding ducks each year and the intensity of the duck nesting effort (Crissey 1969, Smith 1970, Pospahala et al. 1974, Swanson and Meyer 1977).

jpg -- Aerial view of Drift Plain

Fig. 3. Aerial view of intensely farmed Drift Plain surrounding federally-owned Waterfowl Production Areas in east river North Dakota.

jpg -- Aerial view of Missouri Coteau

Fig. 4. Aerial view of the rolling Missouri Coteau in the 3-county intensive study area in east river North Dakota.

We selected Barnes, Kidder, and Stutsman counties in eastern North Dakota for intensive study. This 13,528-km2 study area lies in the Prairie Pothole Region and is almost evenly divided between the 2 major physiographic regions (Fig. 2). The Drift Plain portion of the intensive study area is bisected by 2 rivers, each with naturally well-drained adjacent lands. About 75% of the Drift Plain is cultivated annually (Fig. 3). About two-thirds of the Missouri Coteau portion of the intensive study area is steeply rolling topography with many wetlands, and one-third is a gently rolling glacial outwash plain with scattered large saline lakes and relatively few other wetlands. About 50% of the Missouri Coteau and 25% of the outwash plain are cultivated annually.

Six 93.2-km2 townships were selected for detailed study in the 3-county intensive study area, 2 in the Drift Plain and 4 in the Missouri Coteau (Fig. 2). Two of the Missouri Coteau townships are in the outwash plain. Additional details about the intensive study area and 6 detailed study townships were provided by Sargeant (1972), Stewart and Kantrud (1973, 1974), Sargeant et al. (1975), and Higgins (1977).

The predominant habitats of the Prairie Pothole Region contrast sharply with those of adjacent regions. The vast forested region north and east of the Prairie Pothole Region has an abundance of relatively infertile lakes, streams, and small wetlands (Moyle 1956), but breeding duck densities are much lower than in the Prairie Pothole Region (Bellrose 1979). The artificially and naturally well-drained farmlands that adjoin the southeastern portion of the Prairie Pothole Region contain relatively few wetlands (Bennett 1938:13-16, 95) and consequently attract relatively few breeding ducks. The semiarid naturally well-drained plains south and west of the Prairie Pothole Region have few natural wetlands but contain many man-made stockponds and small intermittent streams. Breeding duck densities in this region are also much lower than in the Prairie Pothole Region (Stewart and Kantrud 1973, Brewster et al. 1976) although there are exceptions such as the Rainwater Basin and Sandhills areas in Nebraska (Evans and Wolfe 1967, Bellrose 1976:47, 50). However, moderate numbers of ducks winter and many ducks stage during migration at various southern locations in the region (Buller 1964:228-229).


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