Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, commonly known as “Ducks Stamps,” are pictorial stamps produced by the U.S. Postal Service for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. They are not valid for postage. Originally created in 1934 as the federal licenses required for hunting migratory waterfowl, Federal Duck Stamps are now an important tool for wetland conservation. Ninety-eight cents out of every dollar generated by the sales of Federal Duck Stamps goes directly to purchase or lease wetland habitat for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Federal Duck Stamp Program is one of the most successful conservation programs ever initiated. The first stamp, designed by J.N. "Ding" Darling, was issued in 1934 (see image at right).
Besides serving as a hunting license and a conservation tool, a current year’s Federal Duck Stamp also serves as an entrance pass for National Wildlife Refuges where admission is normally charged. Duck Stamps and the products that bear duck stamp images are also popular collector items.
In 1989, the first Junior Duck Stamps were produced. Junior Duck Stamps are now the capstone of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Junior Duck Stamp environmental education program, teaching students across the nation “conservation through the arts.” Revenue generated by the sales of Junior Duck Stamps funds environmental education programs in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 2 territories (American Samoa and the Virgin Islands).
Today, many states also issue their own versions of duck stamps. In some states, the stamps are purely a collector’s item, but in others, the stamps have a similar role in hunting and conservation as federal duck stamps.
Since 1934, the sales of Federal Duck Stamps have generated more than $670 million, which has been used to help purchase or lease over 5.2 million acres of waterfowl habitat in the U.S. These lands are now protected in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System.
Waterfowl are not the only wildlife to benefit from the sale of Federal Duck Stamps. Numerous other bird, mammal, fish, reptile, and amphibian species that rely on wetland habitats have prospered. Further, an estimated one-third of the Nation's endangered and threatened species find food or shelter in refuges established using Federal Duck Stamp funds.
People, too, have benefited from the Federal Duck Stamp Program. Hunters have places to enjoy their hunting heritage and other outdoor enthusiasts have places to hike, watch birds, and visit. Moreover, the protected wetlands help purify water supplies, store flood water, reduce soil erosion and sedimentation, and provide spawning areas for fish important to sport and commercial fishermen.
The design of duck stamps
Each year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sponsors a stamp-design contest (usually held in the fall), with wildlife artists from across the Nation submitting their work for judging by a panel of artists and wildlife experts. The winning art is used on the following year's stamp. Wildlife artists consider it a great honor to be selected as the winner of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest.
After the winning design has been selected, the artwork is submitted to the U.S. Postal Service for production of the stamp. The U.S. Postal Service works with the staff of the Federal Duck Stamp Office and other members of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to design and produce a stamp that meets the needs and expectations of the public.
A security document designer at the Postal Service prepares a model, combining the artwork, title, and denomination. Postal service experts determine what areas of the stamp will be reproduced by the intaglio process (a type of engraving), how the colors of the remainder of the image will be separated, and what printing methods and equipment will yield the best reproduction of the artwork. Before printing, the Postal Service submits a stamp model to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for approval.
A similar process is used for Junior Duck Stamps. Annually, thousands of students across the country enter artwork in their state’s round of the Junior Duck Stamp contest. Students from kindergarten to high school compete in one of four age brackets (K-3rd, 4th-6th, 7th-9th, and 10th-12th) for a chance to win various prizes. From the first place winners in each age bracket, state-round judges select a Best of Show piece to represent their state in the National Junior Duck Stamp Contest. Each April, judges for the National Junior Duck Stamp Contest select a winner from the 53 Best of Show entries (one from each state, the District of Columbia, and participating territories [American Samoa and the Virgin Islands]) to become the following year’s Junior Duck Stamp.
Every year on July 1st, a new Federal Duck Stamp and a new Junior Duck Stamp are released for sale to the public at a First Day of Sale Ceremony held at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. After the First Day of Sale, the stamps can be purchased at all national duck stamp retailers.
History of the Junior Duck Stamp Program
In 1989, with a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), Dr. Joan Allemand developed the Federal Junior Duck Stamp (JDS) Conservation and Design Program, a dynamic arts curriculum that teaches wetlands and waterfowl conservation to students from kindergarten through high school. The program incorporates scientific and wildlife management principles into a visual arts curriculum. Participants complete a JDS design as their visual "term papers," thus using visual arts, rather than verbal communication, to articulate what they have learned. Through this program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service introduces the Federal Duck Stamp program and the National Wildlife Refuge System to participants and educates new generations of citizens about the importance of waterfowl and wetlands conservation.
The JDS curriculum made its debut as part of a pilot program in California. In 1990, three thousand students in public and private schools were the first to participate in the JDS Program curriculum and art contest. Florida and Illinois were added in 1991 with Arkansas, Kansas and Vermont entering the program in 1992. At that time, a state stamp sheet was developed using the Best of Show winners from each participating state from 1991 and 1992. This $10 stamp sheet included nine state JDS designs. Due to printing costs for the Best of Show stamp sheet it was determined that a national competition, using the Best of Show winning designs from each state, would be held to select a design for a Federal Junior Duck Stamp.
Maryland and South Dakota entered the program in 1993. With eight states competing, the first National competition was held to select one stamp to become the first Federal Junior Duck Stamp. That year, during the First Day of Sale Ceremony for the Federal Duck Stamp, judges selected the first, second, and third place national winning designs. The first Federal Junior Duck Stamp design winner was Jason Parsons from Canton, Illinois. His design, titled ‘Ruffling Redhead’, was used to create the junior stamps which sold for $5.00 each.
Seventeen new states joined the program in 1994. At that time, stamps were purchased by an individual as a contribution to the NFWF’s Junior Duck Stamp Challenge Grant. Proceeds from the sale of the stamps were used as matching funds to support the program. With the grant term expiring, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sponsored legislation to gain Congressional authorization for the Federal Junior Duck Stamp and to direct the proceeds from sales to support conservation education in the form of awards and scholarships for the participants.
The Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Act of 1994 was enacted on October 6, 1994. The Act directed the Secretary of the Interior to create a JDS and to license and market the JDS and the stamp design. The proceeds from these efforts are used to support conservation education awards and scholarships. In 2000, Congress reauthorized the Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program Act for another five years, and expanded the conservation education program throughout the U.S. and its territories. Since that time, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have joined the program.
Today more than 27,000 students throughout the United States, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands submit entries to a state or territory JDS Contest. The program’s success is due to partnerships with Federal and State government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, private businesses, and volunteers who have helped to recognize and honor thousands of teachers and students throughout the United States for their participation in conservation related activities.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
- Federal Duck Stamp Program home page
- Junior Duck Stamp Program
- National Duck Stamp Collectors Society
Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.