When I? stuck in traffic, one of my favorite fantasies is how I? spend the Lotto jackpot. I tend to gloss over the details, like what the prize would be worth after taxes, and just round numbers off to, say, $100 million. I? pay off a few debts, do a little traveling, buy the wife something nice ?like a new Swarovski binocular ?then I? buy land.
Lots and lots of land.
My land would be a bird? dream come true. Just like hunters manage land for deer or waterfowl, I? manage mine for songbirds. I? have row after row of dogwoods so that Scarlet Tanagers would get their fill of the bright red berries.
There would be fields full of grasses producing succulent seeds for Indigo Buntings. At the base of each pine, I? plant Virginia creeper vines so that Wood Thrushes could feast on their berries.
My modest house would be perched so as to allow a clear view of the habitats from all windows, and there would be spotting scopes strategically placed on all the porches. Just about the time I? seeing my first Gray-cheeked Thrush, the driver behind me toots the horn and reminds me that it? time to pull forward.
Reality sets in. I? still sitting in traffic, and I don? have the winning Lotto number.
I might never win the big lottery, but I?e found a better way to have my own piece of land for birds: buying a Duck Stamp. It? a little like being an absentee landlord.
You buy the Duck Stamp ?officially called the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp ?for $15, and some smart conservation professionals find and then purchase the highest-quality habitats in the country. In most cases, I can visit the property, enjoy the birds and scenery, and leave at the end of the day without having to cut grass, water shrubs or maintain trails. It? like having back yards all over the country, with none of the maintenance concerns.
The Duck Stamp program began in 1934 as a way to get waterfowl hunters to conserve wetlands. Although truly stamps, they are not valid as postage. Instead, they are pure magic for birds.
Waterfowl hunters still must buy the $15 stamp annually, and they generate most of the program? revenue. Anyone can buy them, though, and every birder should.
More than .98 cents of every dollar goes directly to land conservation. Since 1934, more than $700 million has been raised through the program, and more than 5.2 million acres of habitat have been protected and added to the National Wildlife Refuge System. That? way more than I could ever buy with my Lotto winnings.
The connection between my and your backyard bird visitors and the lands protected through the Duck Stamp program is simple and direct: Birds need habitat throughout their migration routes and on their wintering habitats. You can extend your back yard by thousands of miles by buying the stamp.
Take Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, for example. From early April through the end of September, my South Carolina backyard is like Chicago? O?are Airport on Monday morning — but more chaotic. Unlike jets controlled by the FAA, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds zoom around with no flight plans. They dive-bomb each other, our German shepherds, us and then each other again. When they finally leave in the fall, the silence is unbearable.
When the hummingbirds leave the sanctuary of our yard, they set off on a perilous journey that likely includes a flight across the Gulf of Mexico into Mexico or Central America. By purchasing Duck Stamps, we can help provide sanctuary along the way. Duck Stamp dollars helped add more than 30,000 acres to the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge along Texas?southeastern coast, for example — a prime resting and feeding area for Neotropical migratory birds such as the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
When my wife and I lived in Georgia, our yard included a sliver of floodplain forest that almost always attracted an American Woodcock during migration. Adding a woodcock to my yard list was a thrill, and it stimulated me to learn more about their migration.
More than likely, the woodcock in my yard nested someplace in the northeastern states. Fortunately, my Duck Stamp purchase paid off here, as revenue from the stamp has helped with acquisition of more than 20,000 acres at Maine? Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, where alder thickets provide prime woodcock habitat.
My colleague Donn Waage never fails to report to me the waterfowl that he spots at his weekend retreat property in Minnesota. The small pond there is a welcome resting spot for Mallards and other ducks heading south in the fall.
Donn? Duck Stamp purchase contributes to dozens of refuges scattered along the Central Flyway, such as Missouri? Mingo National Wildlife Refuge. Here, nearly 22,000 acres have been purchased with the help of Duck Stamp dollars, protecting bottomland hardwood forests, marshes and open water perfect as resting spots for tired ducks.
Just a little farther south in Arkansas, stamp proceeds helped with purchase of 4,000 acres for Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, a waterfowl haven. If you visit it, keep a sharp eye out for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, which have been reported in the vicinity.
West Coast friends know that their Duck Stamp dollars help protect a string of national wildlife refuges that conserve California? rapidly disappearing natural habitats. The Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, for example, might host upwards of 100,000 waterfowl that flock there for the extensive eelgrass beds and mudflats. This refuge is considered to provide critical habitat for Black Brant in particular.
Most U.S. post offices sell Duck Stamps, as do large sporting goods stores and Wal-Mart. You can order the stamps online, too.
It? important to buy the stamp and even more important to let others know that you bought one and why. I display mine in a small, plastic holder that dangles from my binocular. It? a clever system developed by the Georgia Ornithological Society to help birders demonstrate commitment to the stamp.
The Duck Stamp also makes a great gift. The artwork is beautiful, and many collectors avidly seek the stamps for their appeal and potential appreciation.
Me? I? just living my big backyard birding fantasy.
For More Information …
To purchase a Duck Stamp from the U.S. Postal Service, call 800-275-8777, or visit the Collectibles section at /redirect.aspx?location=http%3a%2f%2fshop.usps.com. Call your local post office to see if it carries the Duck Stamp.
Order from Amplex Corp. at 800-852-4897 or www.duckstamp.com.
Plan to visit a national wildlife refuge purchased in part with Duck Stamp funds. Find them all at www.fws.gov/duckstamps.
Excerpt from WildBird January/February 2009 issue, with permission from its publisher, I-5 Publishing LLC. To purchase digital back issues of WildBird, click here.