Battle breaks out over song birds on duck stamps

unnamed (1)To hunt ducks in this country, you must purchase a $25 federal duck stamp. Each year, the stamp features a different game bird: duck, goose, or swan. The money is used to purchase habitat to those game birds.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stirred up a hornet’s nest (I was tempted to say bird’s nest) by adding song and other nonhunted birds to the stamp, apparently to raise money from nonhunters who they think will purchase the stamps. Congress created duck stamps in 1934 to help protect migratory waterfowl and the program has been a phenomenal success.

The proposal is getting outspoken and fiercely negative reactions from the hunting community. According to Eric Eckholm, who reported on the controversy on April 10 in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which I picked up in the airport enroute to Tucson, Arizona with my wife Linda to – ahem – bird watch for a few weeks. I’m hoping here not to tarnish my hunting credentials!

“Birders aren’t going to go out and buy a duck stamp because it has a little oriole on it,” Adam Grimm, a South Dakota artist who has twice won the annual competition for stamp design, told Eckholm, who also reported that the American Birding Association hasn’t taken a position “for fear of offending someone.” There is evidence that some nonhunting bird lovers purchase the stamps because the habitat purchased also benefits song birds and other migratory birds.

But most stamps are purchase by the one million duck hunters all across the country. Maine is a very small player in the duck hunting world, with only about 10,000 hunters. Nationally, the number of duck hunters has steadily declined. “The population of duck hunters, our main customers is declining and aging,” Daniel Ashe, USF&W Service Director, told Eckholm. “So we need to look at diversifying the customer base for the duck stamp.”

The service is proposing to continue to feature a waterfowl species on the stamp, but also include a second species that would be found in the same habitat. Paul Baicich, President of Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp, reported, “There are 36 to 40 million visitors to the refuge system every year, and more of them should be buying stamps…. To Put a sandhill crane or a bald eagle or, goodness knows, a yellow-headed blackbird in the background would be cool.”

Perhaps. But at public hearings on the idea, it got clobbered. Reacting to the controversy, USF&W told artists that including a second species on their entry for the 2016 contest is optional. They’ll pick a winner in September, and issue final rules sometime in the next few months.

I did not see any suggestion that all those nonhunter folks enjoying the federal reserves, purchased with money from hunters, should be required to buy a duck stamp to access the reserves. Hmmmm.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.