Kill a Critter — Save a Duck

In an ongoing effort to increase waterfowl recruitment, Delta Waterfowl’s professional trappers recently initiated the strategic removal of top nest predators across 26 sites in North Dakota and Manitoba.

Kill a Critter — Save a Duck

This is the result of effective predator management on waterfowl nesting grounds. (Photo:

Back in the mid-1990s, a study conducted by Delta Waterfowl in North Dakota examined the effect that predator removal — foxes, skunks and raccoons via trapping — had on duck nesting success in areas with marginal grasslands and guess what? Nesting success averaged 70 percent where predators were trapped, but only 39 percent where no predator control was exercised. In the Nickolaisen Waterfowl Production Area near Cando, North Dakota, for example, predator removal resulted in duck nesting success approaching 80 percent — far above the benchmark needed to sustain duck populations.

Well, the duck hunter’s organization is at it again — as mallards, pintails, teal and other duck species return to their breeding grounds in the prairie pothole region of Canada and the northern United States to complete the circle of life. And this is the most critical time of year for these ground nesters, with up to 90 percent of their nesting efforts failing in some areas due to egg-sucking predators. However, Delta Waterfowl is once again giving breeding ducks a fighting chance — by ramping up its Predator Management program in an effort to boost duck production across 23 sites in North Dakota and three in Manitoba. 

“Predator Management is the most efficient and cost-effective tool in our arsenal for increasing duck production in areas of high breeding duck densities, but low nest success,” said Joel Brice, Delta’s chief conservation officer. “Every year, the efforts of our professional trappers increase the survival of nesting hens, while also adding thousands upon thousands of ducks to the fall flight. And, of course, a large fall flight with an abundance of juvenile ducks is what leads to a thrilling waterfowl season.

“Studies have shown that removing overabundant nest predators such as foxes, raccoons and skunks — which historically were rarely present in many areas of the prairie landscape — leads to higher nest success for mallards, pintails and teal,” Brice said. “We know it works, so we’re investing our resources with one goal: to produce ducks.” 

However, while Predator Management has proven effective, that doesn’t mean Delta’s innovative biologists aren’t striving to further refine its effectiveness. A new technique, known as “hotspot trapping,” focuses efforts on isolated patches of nesting cover within areas of high breeding duck densities, rather than trapping the entire traditional township-sized block. 

“Hotspot trapping is another tool — an option that’s potentially more effective at increasing nest success in certain landscapes,” Brice said. “In recent years, we’ve documented increased hatch rates of two-, three- and even four-fold over areas lacking Predator Management.”

Additionally, Delta’s efforts at three research sites in Manitoba test Predator Management techniques for enhancing production of over-water nesting species such as canvasbacks, redheads and ring-necked ducks.

“Delta’s Predator Management program works remarkably well for dabbling ducks, which nest in the upland grass,” Brice said. “And we’re getting closer every year to unlocking a Predator Management strategy for major diving species. That would be a potential game-changer for canvasbacks.”

  Delta Waterfowl is The Duck Hunters Organization, a leading conservation group working to produce ducks and ensure the future of duck hunting in North America. For more information, visit


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