Top Duck-Craving Predators
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When it comes to food-chain hierarchy, ducks are the rabbits of the avian world — essentially every critter with forward-facing eyes wants a bite of them. The threats are even broader for ducklings, which are consumed by practically anything large enough to complete the task, from bullfrogs to herons. And you can imagine the vulnerability of duck eggs to plundering, given their immobility and tasty, nutrient-rich yolks.
Here’s a look at the key predators that impact waterfowl production.
Raccoons generally don’t actively search for duck nests, but they’re happy to eat most or all of a clutch when they happen upon one. And happen upon them they do, in their travels along prairie wetland edges, farmland ditches and other places breeding ducks nest. They’ll eat ducklings, too, although their consumption of eggs is far more detrimental to the fall flight. Notably, raccoons are not native to all of the prairie pothole region, and ducks didn’t have to contend with them in prairie Canada until about the 1950s.
Like raccoons, skunks are foraging animals that delight in encounters with duck nests and occasionally eat ducklings, too. Skunks feed most heavily on duck eggs in early spring when food alternatives are scarce. Although skunks are primarily an upland nest predator, Delta research has documented that they will occasionally get their feet wet and go after an over-water duck nest as well.
Many assume that coyotes are public enemy No. 1 for nesting ducks, given their size and abundance. While they will eat ducklings, scavenge eggs and kill any hens they manage to catch, they also drive away foxes and other preeminent breeding duck predators. Thus, while coyotes can have a negative impact on breeding ducks, the losses are somewhat offset by the coyotes’ displacement of more aggressive nest raiders.
Red foxes are an effective predator in the prairie pothole region, particularly for upland-nesting species such as mallards and pintails. Why? For one thing, research suggests they specifically seek out duck nests, rather than finding them opportunistically like most other mammals. They also want more than just eggs — they creep in stealthily in hopes of pouncing on the hen, which of course leaves no chance for renesting. Foxes frequently cache newfound eggs — that is, squirrel them away for later — and move on to the next nest.
Badgers are a major duck-egg predator across much of the prairie pothole region. In a 1999 study published by Notre Dame and conducted in west-central Minnesota and southeastern North Dakota, waterfowl flesh was found in the stomach contents of 32 percent of the badgers sampled, while 27 percent contained ducklings, and a whopping 60 percent had recently consumed duck eggs.
These fanciful, semi-aquatic mammals are occasional egg-eaters, but really take their toll on ducklings in the prairie pothole region. In dry years, when wetlands retract from the surrounding vegetation and ducklings are left exposed, mink can exact an especially grave toll on how many survive to migration. Otters, a relative of mink, similarly affect duck production in areas such as Nova Scotia, where their numbers are increasing.
The corvid family, which includes crows, ravens and magpies, poses a formidable aerial danger to waterfowl eggs and ducklings. These birds are more plentiful in the parkland habitats of central Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba — which have ample trees and therefore support high corvid populations — than in the prairies of the Dakotas and southern Canada. And because the Canadian parklands are a critical region for over-water nesters such as canvasbacks, redheads and ring-necked ducks, corvids strongly affect these key diver species. Crows used to be considered the top avian predator for waterfowl, but recent data suggests that ravens are far more destructive and their numbers have dramatically increased in parkland habitats that support canvasbacks.
One might think the secluded breeding habitats of eiders and other island-nesting sea ducks would be relatively protected from egg-eaters. However, a recent influx of gulls and other predators is significantly limiting nest success and duckling survival in coastal Maine and Canada’s maritime provinces. Predation by black-backed gulls, in particular, is believed to be a leading cause behind declines of common eider populations in the Atlantic Flyway. The gulls perch in wait, and strike when hens leave their nests unattended.
Other Nest Predators
The list goes on. Despite steep population declines, Franklin’s ground squirrels remain a significant nest invader in key portions of the prairies. Birds of prey, including hawks and owls, eat eggs and ducklings, and the recovery of bald eagles in the East is thought to be putting a serious dent in eider duckling survival. Snakes are well documented wood-duck nest raiders, while snapping turtles, largemouth bass, northern pike and even bullfrogs pull plenty of ducklings below the surface. Feral cats, weasels, opossums and herons are also on the hunt for newborn ducks.
To be certain, a juvenile duck that finds itself winging south with winter’s chill at its back has overcome all manner of odds. — Kyle Wintersteen
I applaud your efforts to bring predators to the forefront. No question we have a predator epidemic going on and nothing is being done about it. You folks pointed out predators in your article that most people don’t even think about. Yes you were talking only about waterfowl, but the same holds true for all forms of upland birds and turkeys. We could also add in feral cats, about 95 million of them last count, opossums, armadillos, bobcats and others. The fur prices are down to nothing and the populations of everything just keeps going up. If something is not done on a national scale all our conversation and habitat efforts will go in vain.
When I was a kid we had zillions of Huns and Pheasants on our farm. There was good upland hunting in a much, much wider area of the US than exists today. Over 80% of the people still lived in the country off the land at the time and it could feed and support them. To make sure that game populations stayed at high levels, the Federal government paid a bounty on everything from bears and wolves all the way down to pocket gofers and everything in between. That’s the only thing that is going to get enough folks engaged to reduce the populations to a reasonable level. I wonder if it wouldn’t be possible to ban all the conservation and critter organizations together into a mass initiative to get this accomplished. I don’t even know if it would be possible with all the anti’s, but unless something like that happens on a large scale, our game birds are doomed. We simply can‘t let that happen.
Lost two adult Black Ducks in the last week, one female vanished and the second male, was malled and half eaten on a large float behind our house. We have four others. All arrived last summer. No problem until now. Have installed motion detector lighting, hoping for positive results.
Very sad day. Around noon yesterday a large Otter climbed onto our dock. In the yard were our four American Black Ducks. The large male noticed the Otter, separated from the other three and ran across the yard as a decoy while the three ran into the yard. The tactic worked as the Otter took after the male, who jumped off the dock flying, the Otter missed, as he jumped after the male and into the water.
Today however, the same exact thing happened. He was not so lucky as the otter jumped on top of him, and pulled him under, and he could not resurface.
I watched the whole thing each day and feel that he was attempting to protect his small flock both times. What a hero he was. I feel sick.
We and neighbors are having a daily otter issue this year.
Had to white females vanish in last two weeks
there are a few more predators “seemingly” not listed in your presentation. Those being alligators, catfish, black drum and LARGE birds (like herons & great egrets) “we” have a “small” (somewhat protected) area that “encourages” mottled ducks to visit (and breed) and hopefully produce offspring that survive the predator “onslaught” ..Even though “we” provide VERY protected areas ,as well as food ,water,and shelter ,the “parent” ducks seem to prefer “nesting” in our canal waters. which have an abundance of the aforementioned predators. It IS quite frustrating to witness the decline of the ducklings to predation ,but even with that,”we” do manage to have a survival rate of “about” 60%. I will likely NEVER understand the “apparent” drive to place themselves (as well as the babies) in EXTREME danger when a safer option exists ,but then, they ARE ducks (after all) >>>
what about humans they would be a ducks worst predators by far
Ever eat a chicken sandwich?
How about a hotdog?
That’s right, those came in a wrapper with a price tag, so that’s ok.
Humans don’t predate waterfowl 365 days a year. And humans that do predate ducks during seasons provided, are doing so when there are no ducklings, because they are all grown.
Like the chicken…and pig…cows…etc.
Difference is, to get a duck legally, it costs money. That money goes to preserve land and waterways for continuing renewal.
All of it.
How much from the chicken?
Maybe commercialize duck farms. Ducks in one foot cubicles. Wrappers, price tags…oops…can’t, because they are federally protected. Because we pay for it.
A Herron if unchecked, will consume an entire clutch.
Any predator that eats will do the same.
Never saw Duckling on a menu.
So how are humans the worst?
So sad….we are on a property of 2.61 acres. It consists of a 1/2 acre pond and this time of year high grass. We have a hen and when we first saw her she had eight ducklings. This morning I counted four. I would be so happy to capture them on first sight but….should I try to change the results?
Hi Lynn, (& all),
Whilst it is tempting to adopt young ducklings, mama duck is much better equipped to parent those ducklings. Just as you would not expect ducks to be able to raise your child, neither can you fulfill the role adequately for ducklings. If you raise baby ducks, they are not suitably equipped to exist as wild ducks (they don’t recognise predators, & other dangers), they are a flock bird, that need the company of other ducks not people, & by adopting them, you’d be depriving them of this, & actually placing them at greater risk. The amount of predation may seem cruel to us; but to maintain a stable population of ducks (neither exponentially growing, nor catastrophically declining), then for each duck, in it’s lifetime, only ONE replacement duckling needs to survive to adulthood during the lifespan of that species. For mallards, for example, that average lifespan is about 3 years (whilst individual ducks can live 7-9 years), so for one pair of ducks, 2 hatchlings are needed to replace them, every 3 years; mallard clutches can be large, double figures are not unusual, while I think around 9 is average – 3 years, 27 ducklings, only 2 need survive to maintain a stable population. If all those ducklings survived, we’d be neck deep in ducks! It may seem cruel to us, but this is the reproductive strategy that ducks have evolved, to suit their environment – lots of babies, high rate of attrition. Nature can often seem harsh to us; but everything needs to eat. Enjoy the beauty & reality of nature, harsh though it is, rather than trying to usurp it to your own ends.
This story and the previous comment are very informative. We had a mallard nest in our front yard this year. We live about 400 yards from Lake Winnebago, the largest inland lake in Wisconsin. The hen laid 9 eggs, 7 hatched on or about June 28, a late-season hatch. We followed, as best we could, the hen and her seven ducklings to the lake, stopping traffic on a highway to let them all pass over the cement. One of the ducklings was lame in one leg, and kept falling over trying to keep up with the parade. Once, I found her lost from the hen and the duckling train and returned her to the mother. Long story short, seven ducklings left our yard and seven were seen trailing behind their mother on the waters of Lake Winnebago.
We walked by the area where the hen was last seen swimming with her brood and saw a hen with only three ducklings behind her. With high probability, it was “our” hen and brood. We entered a local yacht club and asked permission to walk along that club’s sea wall to see if we could see our hen and her remaining brood. The fellow who runs the club says he has seen the hen and her ducklings and said snapping turtles likely took the rest while they were swimming on day 1 or 2.
It seems brutal, and it is, but snapping turtles can’t go to the grocery store. It’s our hope that that the three ducklings are still with the world two months from now so they can add to the mallard population.
Hire me as a professional hunter.
I’ll be happy to do predator control.
SF. HILL, You leave out the unnatural ratio of habitat verses predator verses prey that exists due to man’s unatural impact on habitat! Natural regulation is no longer natural and needs predator regulation. At this very moment mallard nesting success in Pennsylvania is in a dangerous spiral
[…] Most experts wouldn’t consider a raccoon an active predator of ducks. However, raccoons are scavengers that will eat pretty much anything they can get their claws on – including ducks. […]
[…] predators are something you need to keep an eye out for. Although many duck predators like red foxes and coyotes are nocturnal, your ducks aren’t safe during the day either; hunting […]
Last night around 11pm, I had just returned home from being gone. I had left when it was daylight and my Pekin refuses to go up before the sun goes down. When I returned home, within minutes I heard her fighting for her life. I went out and whatever had her(it was so dark and she’s snow white) was not afraid of me screaming and throwing sticks at it! I was a crazy person trying to get it to let her go. I wasn’t far behind them at all.Then silence. It killed her and took her body. I couldn’t even track her after he killed her. I live near a creek bed in the country. It was too small to be a coyote but I’m unsure what it was. I was traumatized!! First time that hs ever happened.
Animals that eat birds are referred to as avivores. These predators know how to practice stealth in order to catch their prey. They usually outsmart the avians, and are of course bigger in physique so they’re able to maneuver the birds seamlessly.
The avians are intelligent creatures who are always cautious about their predators. And when they forage for food in yards, shrubberies, or parks, they tune in to their instincts for any animal that can make them their next meal.
Don’t forget snapping turtles. Large turtles will maim and kill adult ducks PDQ.
[…] don’t even need swimming speed for predators. The main predators of ducks are land animals. This includes foxes, coyotes, and […]
my ducks are my pets we lost one do to a fox i was sad a heck. we have to get rid of his bother this weekend his name is huey and he is a campell
[…] Din kanin kommer inte att veta det ankor är också bytesdjur. […]
Predator control is a must and if you want to keep that balance where there’s plenty for predators to eat, and you want to see a high population of upland birds, small game, and waterfowl, then you must curb the overpopulated predator population. When you see a mother duck and her ducklings, she beat the odds sitting on the ground for 28 days until they hatched. In good brood rearing habitat those ducklings will evade every predator there is… Except snapping turtles. Perfect habitat for snapping turtles is the same perfect brood rearing habitat for ducks. When those ducklings start disappearing one at a time without a trace it’s the overpopulated snapping turtles doing a number on them. They are spread throughout that perfect habitat, just like land mines, waiting for every passing duckling to pass over them, and the mother duck and her babies never see it coming. A snapping turtle’s lifespan is 40 to 50 years. They are on top of the food chain. Sure, when they’re hatchlings crows, big fish, and herons will eat them. But by next spring everything that was chasing them is now running away from them. Small potholes, ponds, and marshes will hold too many snapping turtles for ducks, muskrats, and many other types of aquatic animals to successfully raise young.