If you talk to any experienced birder after a while they will probably tell you the same thing, that the birding was better when they were younger. Some of us would shrug this off as “back in my day” talk, but deep down inside we suspected they were right. This sentiment was confirmed last year when a study was released saying that close to three billion birds have disappeared since the 1970’s. This study is interesting because it not only calculated the overall decrease of American birds, but also how much certain species like Meadowlarks and Orioles have decreased. Another interesting finding of the study is that a few groups of birds have seemingly defied the odds and have escaped the fate of all other North American birds, with one group gaining more individuals than any other group: Waterfowl. This month’s post is about how we didn’t fail Waterfowl, and how we can use our successes with Waterfowl conservation to help aid species that we have failed.

Mottled Duck at Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Florida

We have been able to preserve wetlands through a revolutionary item called the Duck Stamp. If you do not know what a Duck Stamp is, it is a small stamp that is made by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a way to raise money for conservation. They can be bought at state parks, sporting goods stores, and online, and while it is mandatory for a waterfowl hunter to own one, anyone can buy a Duck Stamp. According to the IRS the stamp has raised $750,000,000 since its creation in 1934 and that money has gone towards buying 6 million acres of land for conservation. 

The Duck Stamp was created in response to the dust bowl of the 1920’s destroying important wetlands. Hunters and Conservationists got together and recognized the dire condition that their wetlands were in and convinced Franklin Delano Roosevelt to sign the Duck Stamp Act. Since then, the stamp has been used as a massive source of funding, 98% of its substantial profits go towards funding wetlands. If you go to a state park with a wetland, it was probably bought using duck stamps. This expansive amount of protected land meant specifically for waterfowl helped protect that group of birds while other birds were decreasing in number.

The Duck stamp itself is not just a tool used by federal agencies, each state also has their own duck stamps as well. This reflects the fact that the movement to protect waterfowl has been a combined effort of both the Federal government and more localized groups. One of the ways that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been protecting waterfowl through 22 joint ventures across the US and Mexico. A joint venture is a combination of local government, tribal groups, non-profits, and local associations in a geographical area who work together to aid the waterfowl in their region.Through this approach, the Federal government does not have to promote one massive universal plan for birds across the U.S. What is good for birds in New York might not be good for birds in Montana. 

The final reason why I believe that waterfowl succeeded while other bird species collapsed is that waterfowl have more supporters than many other birds. Waterfowl conservation had the support of both hunter’s and birders, whereas grassland and woodland birds only had the support of birders. The success of waterfowl conservation shows that coalitions matter, arguably more than individual groups. If you need additional evidence that coalitions work, look no further than the other bird group that got larger, birds of prey, specifically Bald and Golden Eagles. If any bird can create a coalition, it is the Bald Eagle, and through a coalition of birders, patriots, anti-pollution groups, and concerned scientists, America banned DDT, the chemical that had been killing them. 

In short, we can learn from our successes in waterfowl conservation and try and adapt these methods to use in the conservation of other birds. US Fish and Wildlife has already created a Joint Venture system for other types of birds, which is a start. Also, while there are no other programs like the Duck Stamp currently in the US, we can ask for expansions. The Duck Stamp itself has skyrocketed in value, after President Obama raised the cost to 25 dollars and allowed for the stamp to be bought online, which resulted in the stamp being able to buy 17,000 more acres of land per year.

The fight to protect America’s Birds has always been an uphill battle, and our successes in waterfowl conservation is a beacon of hope that we can look towards as this fight continues.


The Study: https://www.birds.cornell.edu/home/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/DECLINE-OF-NORTH-AMERICAN-AVIFAUNA-SCIENCE-2019.pdf

Study Summary: https://www.birds.cornell.edu/home/bring-birds-back/

US Fish and Wildlife Duck Stamp Website: https://www.fws.gov/birds/get-involved/duck-stamp.php

IRS Description of Duck Stamp Act: https://apps.irs.gov/app/understandingTaxes/whys/thm01/les02/media/is2_thm01_les02.pdf

Waterfowl Conservation Plan: https://www.fws.gov/birds/management/bird-management-plans/north-american-waterfowl-management-plan.php