The Art of Conservation

By VIREO, Visual Resources for Ornithology

This September 9 and 10, the Academy will host the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) 2017-2018 Federal Duck Stamp Contest! This is the first time in the 67 year history of the contest that it will be held in Pennsylvania.

During this two day event, admission to the museum is free and visitors can view this year’s gorgeous entries to this exclusive competition. The winning image will be announced on Saturday and will be featured on next year’s Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. Beginning September 1, rarely seen specimens from the Academy’s Ornithology Collections will be featured in an exhibit honoring the contest.

Since 1934, the Federal Duck Stamp Program has provided funding for the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, through sales of the annual Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. Ninety-eight percent of the proceeds from each stamp purchased go to preserve wetland habitat for our National Wildlife Refuges. In the Philadelphia area, over 60,000 acres of critical wetland habitat at the John Heinz, the Edwin B. Forsythe and Cape May National Wildlife Reserves have been conserved through this program.

Five species of ducks have been selected specifically for this year’s contest. Here’s an inside look on these North American waterfowl:


Jamaica Bay
Jamaica Bay © Johann Schumacher/VIREO
Brant; Branta bernicla; flock; NJ, Edwin Forsythe NWR
Brant; Branta bernicla; flock; NJ, Edwin Forsythe NWR © Doug Wechsler/VIREO

This small goose of coastal bays and marshes breeds in the Arctic tundra across the northern fringe of North America. They wade in shallow water or forage on tidal flats for eelgrass, sea lettuce, and other plants. Special salt glands, similar to those of gulls allow them to drink salt water. Many key wintering sites for Brant have been set aside as wildlife refuges, supported in part by the income from duck stamps.

Canada Goose

Giant Canada Geese at Upper Mississippi Conservation Area, St. Charles County, MO
Giant Canada Geese at Upper Mississippi Conservation Area, St. Charles County, MO © Danny Brown/VIREO
Cape May County, NJ
Cape May County, NJ © Richard Crossley/VIREO

V-formations of honking Canada Geese are a familiar sight across North America. While many Canada Geese descended from managed populations do not migrate, others fly long distances each spring and fall. Migrating populations need both upland and wetland habitat. They forage  primarily on grasses and sedges in spring and summer, and switch to seeds, grains, and berries in the fall. Urban populations are locally nomadic and feed on grasses year round. In their first year, offspring stay with their parents traveling as a family unit amidst large flocks. In their second year, Canada Geese generally pair up and mate for life.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler © Arthur Morris/VIREO

Well-named for its large, spatulate bill, the Northern Shoveler is a denizen of the muddy, fertile wetlands and backwaters known as sloughs. Their specialized bill is well adapted to feed on the invertebrates, seeds, and aquatic plants found in this unique habitat. Northern Shovelers are highly migratory and can be found in all 50 states over the course of a year, ranging from northern South America in winter to the high Arctic in summer.

Red-breasted Merganser

Adult male with immature male Riverside Co., CA March 2012
Adult male with immature male Riverside Co., CA March 2012 © Brian E. Small/VIREO

A large, sleek diving duck, the Red-breasted Merganser breeds the farthest North of all the Merganser species. Sometimes referred to as saw-bills, Mergansers have narrow, serrated bills that are well-suited to catching fish and probing rocky crevices for food. Like other diving ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers run along the surface of the water when taking flight. Once they are airborne, they are one of the fastest birds in the world in level flight.

Steller’s Eider

Adult male Barrow, AK June 2010
Adult male
Barrow, AK
June 2010 © Brian E. Small/VIREO

Listed globally as an endangered species, Steller’s Eider has been in decline for unknown reasons. One of only four species of Eiders in the world, it is the smallest and most agile of these sea ducks. They primarily inhabit the shallows of the Bering Sea, except for the critical breeding season when they utilize freshwater lakes and ponds of the Alaskan tundra. This gregarious duck congregates in small groups and is sometimes found individually with Harlequin Ducks. Steller’s Eider feeds on a wide variety of aquatic creatures and vegetation often diving underwater and emerging as a synchronized group.

For more information on this event, please click here.

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