One of the easiest ways that anyone can support bird habitat conservation is to buy Federal Duck Stamps — one of the most successful conservation tools created to protect habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Ninety-eight percent of the proceeds from Duck Stamps support wetland acquisition and conservation easements for the National Wildlife Refuge System. The 2015–16 federal duck stamp features a pair of ruddy ducks painted by wildlife artist Jennifer Miller of Olean, NY.

By the 1930s, the draining of wetlands, loss of prairie grasslands to agriculture, and overharvesting of waterfowl on ever-dwindling habitat culminated in a drastic loss of waterfowl.

Congress, to address this crisis, passed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act (later amended to the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Act) in 1934. The idea worked. Sales of the stamp have raised more than $800 million to protect more than 6 million acres of habitat for birds and other wildlife.

While migratory waterfowl hunters, ages 16 and older, are required to buy a duck stamp, anyone can contribute to conservation by buying them.

In addition to serving as a conservation tool, a current federal duck stamp is also a free pass into any national wildlife refuge that charges an entry fee. More than 560 refuges offer unparalleled outdoor recreational opportunities, including hunting, fishing, birding and photography. Because nearly all of the proceeds are used to conserve habitat for birds and other wildlife, birders, nature photographers and other outdoor enthusiasts buy duck stamps to help ensure that they can always see wildlife at their favorite outdoors spots.

The official name of the duck stamp says it all — the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. Birds directly benefiting from duck stamp revenues include waterbirds such as the great blue heron and Virginia rail; shorebirds such as the piping plover and common tern; raptors such as osprey and the northern harrier eagle; and wetland-associated songbirds such as the march wren and seaside sparrow.

In addition to being a conservation revenue stamp, the Federal Duck Stamp is also a work of art. Each year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sponsors a juried art contest. Any artist 18 years or older may enter, and the winning work is featured on the next year’s federal duck stamp. Top entries tour the nation each year,and are exhibited at museums, refuges, festivals and other venues.

From hobby collectors to professional philatelists, Americans have for decades treasured federal duck stamps for their colorful and detailed representations of North America’s migratory waterfowl. With their more than 80-year history, Federal Duck Stamps are the longest-running single-themed U.S. stamps.

While many collectors prefer mint-condition duck stamps, others collect items such as stamps on hunting licenses, autographed stamps, plate blocks, stamps signed by hunters, art prints, souvenir cards and first-day covers.

The Junior Duck Stamp Program teaches students across the nation about conservation through the arts. Using scientific and wildlife observation principles, students are encouraged to communicate visually what they have learned through an entry into the Junior Duck Stamp Art Contest. This pairing of subjects brings new interest to both the sciences and the arts. It crosses cultural, ethnic, social and geographic boundaries to teach greater awareness of the nation’s natural resources. Revenue generated by the sales of the $5 junior duck stamp funds environmental education programs in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and several territories. The 2015–16 Federal Junior Duck Stamp features a pair of wood ducks painted by Andrew Kneeland, 17, of Rock Springs, WY.

Duck stamps are available for purchase online, at many sporting goods and retail stores, and at some post offices and national wildlife refuges.

This year’s federal duck stamp will cost $25 — up from $15 last year. This is the first price increase for the stamp in 24 years, the longest single period without an increase in the program’s history. The increased price of the duck stamp will go toward conserving more wetland habitat that waterfowl and other wildlife need to survive.

Wetlands acquired with duck stamp dollars also help purify water, aid in flood control, reduce soil erosion and enhance outdoor recreation opportunities.

To learn more about the Federal and Junior Duck Stamp programs, visit

Kathryn Reshetiloff, a Bay Journal columnist, is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office in Annapolis.

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