Every spring, somewhere around 40 million North American ducks head to the grasslands, wetlands, and forests of the northern United States and Canada. This population fluctuates wildly based on nesting conditions, predation, and human impacts to the landscape. Here are a few things you can do to help North America’s duck numbers remain healthy.
Buy a Few Duck Stamps The Federal Duck Stamp is one of the most successful conservation tools we have as hunters. Since its creation in 1934, the duck stamp has put over $1 billion towards the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, making up almost half of its contributions.
The MBCF has preserved more than four million acres of wetlands and grasslands since its inception. Conservation easements, waterfowl production areas, and national wildlife refuges are all funded by the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, and thus, the duck stamp.
Beyond the money going to lands that waterfowlers care about, you also get a lot of duck for your buck. Of every duck stamp dollar, 98 cents go directly to paying for waterfowl habitat. It’s hard to argue with that specific allocation and little overhead. John Devney, the chief policy officer at Delta Waterfowl, sees the incredible value of those duck stamps to hunters.
“Waterfowl hunters have this incredible legacy as conservationists, and that is all possible because of our long-term commitment to the duck stamp,” Devney said. “More than one-third of the Prairie Pothole Region that is preserved is from the duck stamp.”
In the Prairie Pothole Region, where many of these dollars are allocated, you see the value firsthand. Pheasants, deer, fish, and of course, migratory birds, are omnipresent. Personally, I buy five extra duck stamps every season to keep in the glovebox. You never know when you get to take out a new duck hunter or a buddy forgot to buy theirs.
Build Hen Houses Delta Waterfowl has researched nest success, nest failure, and ultimately what leads to high nest success rates. The numbers are staggering. In areas without predator trapping and management, the nest success percentage is regularly in the single digits. Of nests that fail, 80 to 90% of failure is due to predation. Thus, Delta Waterfowl focuses heavily on trapping regimens in areas that will especially benefit from it.
In addition to reducing predators through trapping, which has to be done every year, Delta Waterfowl also has a more passive way to increase duck nest success: hen houses. Hen houses are tubular wire structures filled with flax straw or grass hay that stands over the water on a pole. Like many puddle ducks, Mallards are ground-nesting ducks that lay eggs in the grass near water. Being elevated above open water, hens can nest out of reach of predators. The result is anywhere from 60 to 80% nest success; quite the improvement over single-digit percentages.
Another benefit beyond the increased hatching success is that the ducklings don’t have to travel over land to get to the water. For those of us who don’t have the time to trap, building hen houses requires less time and maintenance than a monitoring a trapline, are a great way to see nesting success on your own property, and are even a way to give back to farmers who let you hunt their ground.
Voice Your Opinions on the 2023 Farm Bill While the 2023 Farm Bill isn’t quite here yet, it’s one of the most important pieces of legislation to waterfowl hunters and conservationists alike. The Farm Bill impacts CRP acreage availability, water quality initiatives, wetland restoration, wetland buffers, and more. The 2018 Farm Bill will expire in 2023, which means the bill's priorities will begin with the 2022 fall elections.
“Duck hunters may forget that the Farm Bill equals the single largest expenditure on private land conservation,” Devney said. “It has the potential to do wonderful things and terrible things.”
While the 2023 Farm Bill is a ways off, the work begins now, and it’s as important as ever for hunters to voice their concerns regarding our grassland and wetland habitats with their legislators.
Rain and Snow Once the stage is set for good habitat, just add water. Whether you pray, do a rain dance, or cross your fingers, all duck hunters should hope for good rain and snow on the Prairie Pothole Region. While it can make for some long winters for people in the North, cyclical wetlands filling up across the plains translates to more habitat and more ducks in the fall migration.