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Preparing the Prairie for Ducks

Preparing the Prairie for Ducks

Spring is here, and ducks are flying north to the prairie breeding grounds. Soon, hens will attempt to nest, raise ducklings and survive another year — if prowling predators don’t get them first.

Delta Waterfowl trappers are making survival easier for hens and ducklings by reducing the numbers of raccoons, foxes, mink, skunks and other nest-raiding predators in the prairie pothole region of the United States and Canada.

Four trappers have begun working township-sized blocks across North Dakota as part of a three-year study to fine tune predator management, one of Delta’s most successful intensive waterfowl management programs. All trappers are focusing on low-grassland areas of 10 percent grass or less, but two trappers are solely trapping grassy areas while the others will spread their traps across the 36-square-mile blocks.

Researchers are hoping to learn if concentrating traps in these grassy areas improves nest success as much, if not more, than conventional trapping. If that proves to be the case, trappers will be able to specifically target grassy areas and increase efficiency.

In Canada, Delta Waterfowl biologist Mike Buxton will lead a team of seven technicians to comb grass and cattails in Saskatchewan to document if trapping predators improves the nest success of canvasbacks. The three-year study takes place in an area that has been documented to hold the highest densities of the iconic divers in North America, and is the first study of its kind to focus on the impact of predator management on overwater nesting ducks.

“We expect good things, but we’ve never actively looked because searching for overwater nesters is so much more intensive,” Buxton said. “You can easily drag a quarter of grass a day on an ATV, but you might only be able to search two wetlands a day by foot.”

Predation to hens and their nests during the spring is the greatest hindrance to duck production. Delta Waterfowl has studied predator management since the 1990s as an intensive management tool to remove predators from areas with high duck densities and low nest success to bolster production and send more ducks south each fall.