Glamour Duck Achieves Stardom On Wildlife Stamp
Sales of duck stamp aid conservation
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Duck stamps and related duck caps, T-shirts, mugs, calendars, blankets, and limited-edition prints were of interest mainly to hunters, who have been one of the most powerful national lobbies in favor of preserving wetlands and combating water pollution. Duck hunters alarmed by the drop in waterfowl populations during the Dust Bowl era in the 1930s supported user-fee legislation and the creation of an annual duck stamp (then $1) as a way to protect breeding, feeding, and resting grounds for threatened birds. Hunting groups such as Ducks Unlimited also privately raised more than $1 billion to preserve wetlands in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.Skip to next paragraph
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But recently, conservationists and collectors have taken a greater interest in duck stamps, and their purchases now account for about 10 percent of sales. The US Fish and Wildlife Service expects that interest from collectors will be higher this year, because for the first time the duck stamp will be self-adhesive.
In 1996, nearly 63 million Americans spent $31 billion observing, feeding, and photographing wildlife of all kinds, according to a new study by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, to be released later this month. While 3 million hunters shoot ducks and other migratory birds, some 14.3 million people prefer to watch or feed them.
"Bird-watching now ranks just behind gardening as the No. 1 favorite American pastime, and [it's] gaining," says Lillian Stokes, also a judge in the competition. Last month, Donald and Lillian Stokes, top-selling nature authors, launched a PBS television series called "Bird Watch."
Ducks are now more popular than songbirds as the object of all that watching, according to the Fish and Wildlife study.
It's hard not to love a duck. Four marching mallards from the Peabody Orlando Hotel in Florida nearly stole the opening of this year's duck stamp competition, as they waddled and grunted their way past judges and spectators. The march is a variation of their daily strut to and from the signature Peabody hotel fountain.
"Ducks are creatures of habit," says Peabody duck trainer Mark Hirchert. "We can train them to march in about 30 days. And tourists line up to see it."
Duck-caller Sean Mann from Towson, Md., insists that it's more than a cute waddle that draws people to ducks. "You can communicate with ducks. The effect of a good call on waterfowl is incredible. Sometimes a flock far away will turn as if they've hit a brick wall," says Mr. Mann, whose championship quacks from his own handcrafted calls led off this year's event.
"Of course, I don't really know what I'm saying to them. It's probably, 'Free Corn!' or 'It's safe down here!' but it sounds like 'Quack! Quack!' " he adds.
"Ducks are one of the true wild species that we can see in our own cities and suburbs, and that's why people relate to them," says artist Steiner.
The duck population dipped to its lowest recorded ebb in the 1980s, but has been on the rise through the 1990s. This year promises to be one of the biggest migrations since officials started keeping count in 1955. This fall's flight is projected at 89.5 million.
Biologists credit conservation measures and lots of rain on duck breeding grounds on the prairie for the turnaround. "Millions of acres of wetlands have been restored in the past decade," says John Rogers, deputy director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Experts say that the 100 million bird goal of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, a cooperative waterfowl recovery strategy by the US, Canada, and Mexico, is now well within reach.
And a little stamp had something to do with it.