Just quackers: Hunting decline lands ducks in the soup

mallard ducks The numbers of duck hunters in the US is declining but it may not be good news for the birds.

A farming friend of mine makes a wry point about the evolution of cattle.

He says that despite their dumb reputation they have adopted an extremely successful survival strategy - by making themselves tasty to meat-eating humans.

The introduction of horse into that equation hasn't changed this fundamental point.

Another species that humans like to eat is duck. Unfortunately for the duck, humans like to hunt them as well, for what some call "sport".

But while many people find hunting repugnant, new research from the US suggests that shooting ducks has actually been rather good for the species.

Glory days for ducks

Dr Mark Vrtiska and colleagues at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission recently published research in the Wildlife Society Bulletin saying that organised and licensed hunting has boosted the amount of money being spent of conservation.

More than two million hunters paid for a "duck stamp," a federal licence to shoot the creatures in the 1970s. The researchers say that 98% of the money raised is spent on purchasing or leasing habitat within the National Wildlife Refuge System.

According to Dr Vrtiska this has had a hugely beneficial impact on the birds.

President Clinton duck hunting Former President Bill Clinton took part in duck hunting expeditions while in office.

"The waterfowl population has passed 40 million six times since 1995. These should be glory days for duck hunting" he said.

But there are clouds on this happy horizon. Sales of duck stamps are declining, down to 1.3m in 2008, and they continuing to fall by around 30% annually.

In the good old days the number of hunters and the number of birds rose and fell in balance with each other. But no longer.

"Because the relationship appears to be broken we've lost a lot of funding and in turn lost a lot of habitat conservation on the ground," Dr Vrtiska told me.

"The carrying capacity of the lands to produce ducks is going to be significantly reduced without that conservation funding being there."

Good weather for ducks

The problem is there hasn't been enough good weather for ducks. Drought has had a significant impact across the US in the past few years. The duck stamp money helped construct the right types of habitat so that when it did eventually rain, the birds were able to reproduce successfully.

Ruddy duck The sale of licences to hunt ruddy ducks and other birds raises millions of dollars.

"You can't buy rain, but the money allows you to set the table," says Dr Vrtiska.

The researchers aren't optimistic that the numbers of duck hunters will ever rise again, due to changing cultural and social factors. So the scientists are seeking other ways to boost revenues. They are discussing different types of licences, for people to shoot birds, but not just with guns.

"We have to be more amenable to different levels of participation, for people to shoot, view or hunt - We are trying to find innovative solutions - perhaps a basic stamp to go and view birds, perhaps a more expensive full season ticket for hunting," he added.

Is this just about preserving the rights of people to blast the birds from the sky?

"It's about preserving ducks, habitats and the tradition of hunting. They are inter-dependant, I don't see how to get around one without the other two."

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Matt McGrath Article written by Matt McGrath Matt McGrath Environment correspondent


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  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    For all the conervation work done by shooting estates the truth is most (by noe means all but a great many) are only conserving prey animals that were never native, or not native is such high nos, to the UK countryside....

    ....why conserve wasn't isn't natural to rural Britain when you could be doing so for native species that currently struggle?

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    What a pity nobody hunted the dodo!

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Photo 'shoots' could be a new use for hunting stamps - let people rent a shooting spot to photograph the ducks and hunters. It is quite an interesting event to photograph.

    Or try auctioning hunting spots - and let the environmentals and anti-hunters bid alongside the hunters. Positions non-hunters win could be left empty or used a protest sites, or to scare off ducks and reduce kills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    L>icenced hunting limits the number of stamps issued to prevent over-hunting, and the use of quotas cuts waste.
    I have no problem with people who hunt and then eat the 'prey'. Hunting just for trophies is awful. if you can't or won't eat it, don't kill it. Licences shouldn't be issued unless there's an over-population problem to solve.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    A salient point I would like to make, is I find it quite interesting how many people on this forum are negatively commenting on the act of hunting and shooting.

    1, The treatment - respect shown by those in the shooting circle to game is much higher that that shown to livestock in slaughterhouses.

    2, At least with shooting you know that animal was healthy and doesnt have or isn't horse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Over the past 20 years I have been shoooting I have worked to enrich the natural habitat This has had a major effect on the wildlife, that would not have been present without this work. English Countryside looks like it does because of hunting and shooting, landowners have left inefficient hedges and small patches of woodland that are so sterotypical of the English countyside for shooting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Hunters provide habitat, nesting sites, food and deter predators.

    The people complaining dont do anything or worse give money to charities which invariably concentrate on predator species only.

    The hunters have a sustainable high quality source of food and know exactly where it came from - enjoy your processed horse meat burgers.

    Down arrow as much as you like while you do nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.


    What does it say about the human race that people are willing to pay money for a license to kill but wouldn't be willing to pay the same money to preserve wildlife without the opportunity to slaughter some of it?
    And just how much cash do you contribute to the preservation. Would zero be about right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Ducks Unlimited buy wet lands that are the breeding grounds for ducks. The preserved wetlands benefit more than just ducks, all wetland dependent species (plants included) benefit. In Western Canada if you see wetlands the chances are that Ducks Unlimited owns it and/or has improved/restored it, all with duck hunters money. With no government money or help from the environmentalists (agitators).

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    What does it say about the human race that peope are willing to pay money for a license to kill but wouldn't be willing to pay the same money to preserve wildlife without the opportunity to slaughter some of it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    15.he March Hare

    Anyone who gets pleasure from destroying the life of a sentient creature is sick in the head.
    The human race evolved as hunter gathers. With the advent of agriculture the squeamish were relieved of killing their own food.

    You eat at the expense of other living things, either animal or plant. The fact is if you don't eat it something else will.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Good luck persuading people they should drive to a preserve and pay money to see ducks rather than sit on the couch and watch them on cable for free.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    19 Angelstation - I don't understand those that hunt with no intention of using the animal, surely part of the thrill is eating your kill? May as well go clay shooting if you don't plan to use them.
    We ocassionally get given phesants or geese from our neighbour, apparently tourists come over here to shoot our birds and then just leave them once dead, so many that they can be given away for free!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Hunters will always make the case that they are somehow preserving the wildlife that they blast out of the sky. The arguments that hunting is good for the animals is one I've never understood. Here in Mesa AZ, I hear the guns blasting away at 0500 on the first day of quail hunting season. The animals are not taken, caught or used. They are just a target.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Managing green space for wildlife or for a particular species is actually full of killing. Foreign species are constantly attacking our native ones. We trap and kill the mink, rabbits, bullfrogs, deer, squirrels, fish... It's a constant and never-ending battle. But at least there is green space and at least some animals benefit. Now you please come up with ideas to pay for all this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Chris, your point about them existing perfectly well in unspoiled habitats is exactly what the money from the permits is doing. Without the money the habitats would become farm land and thus no ponds and certainly no ducks would be present. Like everything in this world, if it's to survive it has to have a value to humans and be managed otherwise it has no chance (unfortunately).

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Cows are artificially inbred to suit us, and have artificial lives. These wild ducks would exist very well in unspoiled habitats without any help from us. It's so sad that some can stoop so low as to justify wreaking havoc on wild animals for their amusement because it's the only way we would do right by of 'providing' habitat. (Sparing habitat that we'd otherwise trash, more like)

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Anyone who gets pleasure from destroying the life of a sentient creature is sick in the head.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    How many of the people here complaining about hunting have actually done anything to preserve wildlife habitat. Complain all you want but hunters are doing more to preserve the habitat and the animals then most of the people ostracizing them. As the article clearly states without the money the habitats disappear, and guess what, its not the hunters who are causing that to happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Poachers destroy Elephants, Rhino, Tigers etc. Mindless hunting will achieve the same result.What is really difficult is to maintain a balance and a stable population. Unfortunately the road to damnation is paved with good intentions or the greed of people; both are equally damaging.


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