Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) predation on nesting ducks was assessed by examining 1,857 adult duck remains found at 1,432 fox rearing dens from 1968 to 1973. Dabbling ducks were much more vulnerable to foxes than diving ducks. Dabbling ducks (1,798) found at dens consisted of 27% blue-winged teals (Anas discors), 23% mallards (A. platyrhynchos), 20% northern pintails (A. acuta), 9% northern shovelers (Spatula clypeata), 8% gadwalls (A. strepera), 3% green-winged teals (A. crecca), 2% American wigeons (A. americana), and 10% unidentified. Relative abundance of individual species and nesting chronology were the most important factors affecting composition of ducks taken by foxes. Seventy-six percent of 1,376 adult dabbling ducks and 40% of 30 adult diving ducks for which sex was determined were hens. In western North Dakota and western South Dakota, 65% of mallard and northern pintail remains found at dens were hens compared with 76% in eastern North Dakota and eastern South Dakota (P < 0.05). Percentage hens varied among the 5 most common dabbling ducks found at dens. In eastern North Dakota and eastern South Dakota, where predation on ducks was greatest, an average of 64% of gadwall, 73% of northern pintail, 81% of blue-winged teal, 81% of mallard, and 90% of northern shoveler remains found at dens were hens. Percentage hens among duck remains found at dens increased as the duck nesting season progressed.
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.
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