A peaceful alliance between the birder and hunter seems as improbable as the Biblical lion lying down with the lamb, but miracles do happen. Just remember the stories of the vast flocks of Passenger Pigeons and Carolina Parakeets darkening the skies and their subsequent decimation by hunters. Or recall the indiscriminate shooting of migratory birds-of-prey on Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania or the plume hunters of southern Florida. On the Chesapeake Bay hunters used giant guns balanced precariously on small boats to harvest thousands of swimming waterfowl, often hundreds with a single shot. During a recent trip to Italy I noticed the skittish nature of all the passerines, apparently due to the longterm hunting of these small birds for food. But even with this history there has been a remarkable truce between birder and hunter in this country, benefitting both, as well as the birds.
In 1934 at the height of the Great Depression, when you’d think politicians would have had more pressing issues on their minds, FDR signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act. This act, designed to preserve vital wetlands, required that each waterfowl hunter purchase a Federal Duck Stamp yearly. Ninety-eight cents of every dollar raised by this program has gone into a conservation fund and has been used to purchase wetlands throughout the United States. Since its inception some 900 million dollars has been raised to purchase 5.7 million acres of prime habitat.
Currently a Duck Stamp costs $25, a price gladly paid by hunters and waterfowl art and stamp collectors as well. The first stamp was designed by “Ding” Darling, a name well-known by birders who have visited the famous hotspot on Sanibel Island, Florida. He was a political cartoonist and also the director of The Bureau of Biologic Survey, the precursor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. His first stamp depicted a Mallard pair landing on a pond.
Initially the stamps were designed by invited artists but since 1949 they have been chosen in a juried, open, and highly competitive contest. The 2017 winner is a beautiful painting of flying Canada Geese by James Hautman of Chaska, Minnesota. Amazingly this is James 5th duck stamp winner, tying him with his brother Joseph who also has 5 prior winners. Another brother, Robert came in third this year and has also won two prior contests! There’s duck stamps in those genes I’d say. You can buy the stamp, a print of the original art, or a framed rendition of both at http://www.fws.gov/duckstamps/.
Birders receive “bird gifts” at the holidays and special occasions. Recently at a retirement party my colleagues thoughtfully presented me with multiple interesting bird feeders and plenty of feed to stock them. They also baked an amazing cake with frosting depicting a bird photo lifted from my blog. Thanks for that; you know who you are. Several years ago I received a call from a dear friend who was in a thrift shop in Arizona and ran across 6 framed duck stamps and prints from the 1980’s. “Would you like them”, he queried. “You bet”, was my quick reply. I now have a beautiful gallery of stamps.
I’m not a hunter but sincerely appreciate the duck stamp program, an alliance of hunters, birders, artists, art and stamp collectors, and conservationists. And the birds like it too.