Duck, Duck, Goose

By Carolyn Belardo

Duck, duck, goose, wood duck. That last one nearly went extinct, but this unusually shaped and most colorful of all waterfowl now is the centerpiece of an exhibit that opened today in anticipation of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, which will be held in Pennsylvania for the first time.

First, details about the contest.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hosting the contest at the Academy on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 9 and 10.

On those days, a display of the entries will be open to the public, and a panel of five judges will examine all the entries and select one artwork that will appear on the 2017-2018 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, also known as the Duck Stamp.

Wood duck specimens. Photo by Mike Servedio/ANS
Wood duck specimens. Photo by Mike Servedio/ANS

General admission to the Academy will be free of charge on Sept. 9 and 10. (An $8 super saver ticket is available for the Dinosaurs Unearthed and Butterflies! exhibits.)

The artwork entries will be on display in the commons room on the ground floor through Sept. 10, and the judging will take place in the public setting of the auditorium. Doors open at 9 a.m. both Sept. 9 and 10, though on Friday museum access is limited to the commons and the auditorium until 10 a.m.

The winning design for the next duck stamp, the cornerstone of one of the world’s most successful habitat conservation programs, is expected to be announced by 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10.

To celebrate the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, the Academy is planning two days of special activities and a longer-ranging exhibit featuring rare and beautiful feathered friends handpicked from the Academy’s Ornithology Collection.

On both Sept. 9 and 10 there will be live bird mini-shows at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Throughout the day, visitors can get creative by designing their own duck-themed postcards to take home.

Two documentaries related to birds will be shown in the auditorium.

At 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 8, there is The Messenger, a 90-minute documentary that explores the relationship between humans and birds and the remarkable variety of human-made perils that have devastated songbirds. The film is free; to register visit

At 4:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 9, it’s The Million Dollar Duck. This one-hour documentary explores the strange and wonderful world of the duck stamp contest and the eccentric nature of some of the contestants who enter each year for a chance at wildlife art stardom. The film is free; to register visit

Trumpeter Swans are depicted on the 2016-2017 Duck Stamp.
Trumpeter Swans are depicted on the 2016-2017 Duck Stamp. Photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


Duck, Duck, Goose

In anticipation of the contest, the Academy has created a small exhibit called Duck, Duck, Goose: The Federal Duck Stamp Story, which features two dozen species of rare and rarely seen birds from the Academy’s collection.

The ducks, geese, swans, and other taxidermy birds and study skins are juxtaposed with an artist’s rendering that was submitted as part of the contest. The study skins—the outer portion of the birds minus the perishable insides—are used by researchers studying climate change, extinction, habitat loss, and other environmental issues.

“We’re showing rare birds, beautiful birds people don’t usually see, and also birds of conservation concern,” says Nate Rice, the Academy’s ornithology collection manager. “It’s such an honor to be picked as a venue for this event. I’m thrilled.”

Duck, Duck, Goose features a variety of previous years' federal duck stamps along with the birds then represent. Photo by Mike Servedio/ANS
Duck, Duck, Goose features a variety of previous years’ federal duck stamps along with the birds they represent. Photo by Mike Servedio/ANS

The centerpiece of the exhibit is the wood duck, including a specimen collected by the famed naturalist and artist John James Audubon.

The wood duck has been featured on three duck stamps over the years and likely would have gone extinct without habitat acquired with duck stamp funds, among other conservation actions. It has a unique shape among ducks and stunning colors that make it one of the most beautiful waterfowl.

Rice says the Academy’s collection of more than 250,000 research specimens dating back to the earliest days of the institution’s founding in 1812 is well known to wildlife artists, but not the general public.

“The public doesn’t realize how systematic collections like this influence art. Most of the illustrations in field guides are drawn from preserved museum specimens, and the Academy has one of the best collections of birds,” Rice says.

Duck, Duck, Goose: The Federal Duck Stamp Story will be on display through Nov. 1.

The Federal Duck Stamp Program is one of the most successful conservation programs in the nation’s history and has generated more than $850 million to help protect and conserve more than 5.7 million acres of wetlands and grasslands for wildlife habitat, including Philadelphia’s own John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum.

For more details about family activities in connection with the contest, visit


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