History of the Federal Duck Stamp

conserving habitat for birds and people

"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot. Like winds and sunset, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them." -Aldo Leopold

When the explorers first set foot in North America, the land and skies teemed with an astonishing variety of wildlife. Within a few decades, these resources had been decimated. Millions of birds and other wildlife were killed, some species to the point of extinction.

Market shooting to supply food to restaurants, bounty hunting and unregulated sport hunting, and collecting feathers for the fashion industry all contributed to the loss. Millions of acres of wetlands were drained to feed and house the ever-increasing population, greatly reducing waterfowl breeding and nesting habitat.

Mother Nature has taken her toll with devastating droughts and floods that affect bird migration rest areas and wintering grounds. And  climate change has the potential to alter bird populations in North America; estimates are that more than 300 species will be driven to smaller spaces or forced to find new places to live, feed and breed over the next 65 years.

As well as providing habitat for wildlife,  wetlands help maintain ground water supplies, filter pollutants, store flood waters, provide nurseries for many food sources, and protect shorelines from erosion. These provide important benefits to neighboring human communities.

By buying Federal Duck Stamps, you can make a difference by providing wildlife habitat in your own community.

born in the dust bowl days

In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act (or Duck Stamp Act), and an increasingly concerned nation took firm action to stop the destruction of wetlands vital to the survival of migratory waterfowl. Under the act, all waterfowl hunters 16 years of age and over must annually buy and carry a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp - better known today as a Federal Duck Stamp.

Ninety-eight cents of every duck stamp dollar goes directly into the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to  purchase or lease (5.2MB) wetlands and wildlife habitat for inclusion in the  National Wildlife Refuge System. This ensures there will be land for wildlife and humans that will be protected for generations to come.

Since 1934, some $800 million dollars has gone into that fund to protect  more than 5.7 million acres (102.5KB) of habitat. Little wonder the Federal Duck Stamp Program has been called one of the most successful conservation programs ever initiated. One of the reasons for the Duck Stamp's success is that anyone can buy the stamp, which can also be used as an annual "pass" to  national wildlife refuges charging entrance fees.

Why Buy Duck Stamps?

Conservationists buy duck stamps because they know that 98 percent of the cost goes directly to conserve wildlife habitat vital for many birds, fish, mammals and plants, and you and your family - and future generations. This small investment brings long-term returns.

Stamp collectors purchase the stamp as a collectible that increases in value. Hunters, who strongly advocated for the Duck Stamp's creation, willingly pay the stamp price to ensure the survival of our natural resources. And many hunters buy two duck stamps each year - one for hunting and one as a collector's item and an additional contribution to conservation.

The Federal Duck Stamp has evolved over its more than 80 years of existence. In recognition of the stamp's growing value as a conservation tool, its formal name was changed to the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp.

The first Federal Duck Stamp was designed by  J.N. "Ding" Darling, a political cartoonist from Des Moines, Iowa, who was chief of the Bureau of Biological Survey, the predecessor to the  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In subsequent years, noted wildlife artists were asked to submit designs to be considered for the stamp.


1949: The first Duck Stamp art contest was open to any U.S. artist who wished to enter. Decades later, the Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest remains the only art competition of its kind sponsored by the U.S. government - and one that anyone may enter. Wildlife artists annually vie for the prestige of seeing their art grace the new stamp.

1984: Congress amended the Duck Stamp Act to authorize the Interior Secretary to license reproductions of the Federal Duck Stamp on products manufactured and sold by private sector enterprises. Royalties from the sale of these products are also deposited into the  Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (102.5KB) for wetlands acquisition.

2010: The Electronic Duck Stamp Program is  piloted, allowing users to buy Federal Duck Stamps online through state licensing systems. A printed receipt, available immediately, is valid for 45 days, during which time a physical duck stamp is mailed. The E-Stamp Program became  permanent in 2013.

2014: President Obama signs into law the first  price increase for the Federal Duck Stamp in more than 20 years. Bringing the cost of a Duck Stamp to $25 beginning in 2015-2016, the price increase ensures that funds will be available to protect an estimated 17,000 additional acres of habitat every year. The additional $10 will be used to acquire conservation easements, allowing important habitat to be protected for future generations, while allowing owners to retain many private property rights and to live on and use their land.

A Duck Stamp for kids

In 1989, the Junior Duck Stamp Program was conceived. This conservation education and arts program teaches children in Kindergarten through 12th grade the fundamentals of waterfowl and habitat conservation in an engaging way. As their "visual term paper," students demonstrate what they have learned by painting or drawing a duck, goose, or swan.

After state-level competitions, top art is judged in the National Junior Duck Stamp Art Contest. The winning art is made into the Junior Duck Stamp, which sells for $5 to support this conservation education program.

Last Updated: July 7, 2016