Birders are not required to buy Federal Duck Stamps, but duck hunters have to do so if they want to legally hunt waterfowl. But there are many reasons that bird watchers or anyone interested in protecting natural habitats should strongly consider buying a duck stamp, too.
The new duck stamps went on sale last month, and they feature a trio of Canada Geese taking to the air against the backdrop of a beautiful sunrise.
For 84 years now, the stamps have been producing revenue that is used to protect the habitat of waterfowl.
Most duck hunters buy the stamps willingly, because they know that without the revenue the stamps produce that is used to protect duck habitat, the quality of duck hunting in the United States would plummet precipitously. Many hunters buy two -- a required one to carry when they hunt, and another for collecting and displaying.
But hunters are not the only ones who should consider buying the stamps. Here are some reasons birders should, too.
1. Birders like ducks, of course. But the revenue produced by the Federal Duck Stamp doesn't just protect the habitat of ducks. That protected habitat is also used by rails, gallinules, bitterns, several wren and sparrow species, ospreys, Bald Eagles, and many other birds. Perhaps that is the reason that the formal name of the duck stamp program is the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp.
Historically, about 98 percent of the revenue from sales of the stamps has been used to conserve wetlands habitat, especially on national wildlife refuges. Since 1934, stamp sales have generated more than $950 million for conservation.
2. The duck stamps are small pieces of art, and they are great collector items. Many of the purchasers of the stamps are stamp collectors. Some older stamps are worth hundreds of dollars if they are in pristine condition, but after a few years even used stamps affixed to hunting licenses are usually worth more than their original face value.
3. The stamps serve as a free pass to any National Wildlife Refuge that charges a fee. This is not a huge incentive for purchasing the stamps, since many refuges are free and fees are usually modest at the others. But it does help to offset the $25 cost of the stamps. But by far the principal reason birders should buy duck stamps is that the revenue they produce goes to protect critical bird habitat. Personally, I would like to see Congress approve a voluntary "birding" stamp -- similar to the duck stamp but not required -- with all the profits going to protect or add to public lands. There are thousands of excellent nature photographers out there who would gladly submit photographs to be considered for the stamps just for the honor of being chosen. (I'd keep the use of submitted waterfowl paintings for the duck stamps -- no need to change a program that already works.) Like the duck stamp, this voluntary stamp could be used for access to national wildlife refuges. It could be marketed to stamp collectors and to birders who want to support conservation. Such a voluntary program would never be as successful as the duck stamp, but I believe it could generate enough revenue to make a significant contribution.
But until such a stamp is available, I urge birders (and hikers and campers and fishermen) to purchase duck stamps.
Duck stamps can be purchased online, at many sporting goods stores, and some post offices and national wildlife refuges. Find information here.
-- Birmingham Audubon Society: While most of the state's birding groups take the summer off from organized field trips, not so Birmingham Audubon. On July 29, the destination will be Autauga and Lowndes counties where the target birds will include the impressive Swallow-Tailed Kite. On Aug. 5, the group will head to the Greensboro area. Each of these will be a free, all-day trip that is open to both members and nonmembers. For details, go to: http://birminghamaudubon.org
-- The Alabama Birding Trails web page has a comprehensive list of upcoming birding and nature-related activities around the state that is much more detailed than space allows here. Most of the activities are open to the public and many are free. See it at: alabamabirdingtrails.com
Ken Hare is a retired newspaper editor and writer who now writes for WSFA 12 News. Feedback appreciated at email@example.com. To see other columns, go to his page