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Predator Management = More Birds!

Ducks, Geese, Pheasants, Sage Grouse, Turkeys, Quail. . . we all want more of these birds and others, but we may not be doing everything we can to make that happen. When the conversation turns to what’s best for birds and putting more of them in the air I bet that most of you reading this are quick to jump on the habitat bandwagon, and rightly so. However, that’s the easy answer and it takes more than high quality habitat to achieve thriving bird populations.

When explorers like Sir Alexander Mackenzie and the Lewis and Clark expedition first crossed the North American continent, the landscape was untouched and unchanged by the hand of man. That’s not the case today and quite often nest predators like foxes, raccoons and skunks (don’t get me started on ravens!) thrive where human development has been established. Each of these animals is a highly effective nest predator, often reducing overall nest success for ground nesting birds to less than a paltry 5%.

“The altered landscape has created an imbalance between waterfowl and predators,” said Joel Brice, chief conservation officer of Delta Waterfowl. “We focus Predator Management on areas where the balance is misaligned. The result is that more ducks hatch, and more ducks fly south every fall.”

While high-quality, intact habitat is vital for birds, what has blown my mind for a long time is how predator management often gets overlooked. There is zero doubt in my mind that with the decline in demand for fur and the subsequent decline in trapping on this continent, we have seen an explosion of nest-raiding predators. While this hasn’t seemed to drastically affect waterfowl production across the board (yet, I’m holding my breath) there can be little doubt that shrinking sage grouse, turkey and quail populations can be directly linked to increased numbers of nest predators.

Habitat management without predator management is pointless. The same habitat that attracts and produces game birds also attracts and produces nest predators, therefore it stands to reason that removing as many nest predators as possible would increase game bird production, yet we continue to beat the habitat drum. Why? Well, in my opinion. . . it’s easy to raise money for habitat. Folks gladly write checks and donate time to conserve acres or restore wetlands and uplands, it makes us feel good. That’s not quite the case when there’s blood to be shed. Predator management entails the killing of predators and that makes a lot of folks squeamish.

“Delta Waterfowl is dramatically ramping up the organization’s efforts to produce ducks. In July 2022, Delta announced the ambitious Million Duck Campaign, a $250 million fundraising effort with a goal of adding 1 million ducks to the fall flight every year.”

You don’t have to be a trapper or predator hunter to do your part in predator management but it certainly helps. Join Delta Waterfowl and put your money into something more than conserving acres of habitat, be a part of actively managing that habitat.

I’ll leave you with a story about how much impact predator management can have on game bird production when combined with quality habitat management. My brother owns a farm in northeast Iowa. At first blush the habitat looked superb but upon closer inspection the place didn’t harbor as many pheasants or turkeys as he thought it could. He and my father, who lives on the farm, began a deliberate and thorough predator management plan. Dad trapped coons, skunks and possums, hunted coyotes and foxes and my brother even hired a professional trapper to knock down the coyote population in order to increase whitetail fawn survival. Abandoned buildings and structures were torn down and removed to eliminate nesting habitat for ravens and crows and shelter for raccoons and skunks.

My brother and dad have actively managed that farm for game bird and whitetail production. My dad has trapped over 100 raccoons on the 180 acre farm in just two years, along with numerous skunks and possums. Between the professional trapper and recreational hunting more than 50 coyotes have been removed in the same time period, as well as numerous foxes. Yes, I’m aware of the research surrounding coyotes that points to an increase in nest predators where coyotes are actively targeted and removed, thus the intensive trapping of nest predators on the farm.

The result? Last spring my dad recorded six separate broods of turkeys on the property, a number he’d never before seen, and over a dozen broods of pheasants. He even recorded a brood of bobwhite quail, something neither he nor my brother expected. In short, the combination of high quality habitat and extensive predator management has turned that little 180 acre farm into a game bird and whitetail mecca.

Now, I realize the above story is anecdotal and lacking in peer reviews but for me, the proof is in the pudding. If we want more birds we need both high quality habitat and predator management.

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