Eight Great Reasons to Love the Migratory Bird Stamp

Originally published in June 2013; updated July 2017
July 12, 2017

Tip: You can buy the 2017-2018 stamp at many post offices, National Wildlife Refuge offices, and sporting-goods stores, as well as online from USPS and Amplex.

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A brand-new piece of fine art went on sale this summer, and at just $25 it’s a bargain. Its official name is the 2017–2018 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, but many people know it as the Federal Duck Stamp. Here at the Cornell Lab, we call it the Migratory Bird Stamp because it benefits many kinds of birds and is a great idea for any bird watcher or conservationist.

Buying a Migratory Bird Stamp is a simple and direct way for people to contribute to grassland and wetland conservation. In 2013, the New York Times ran a piece on the annual stamp art competition; now here’s our own list of eight reasons to love the stamp:

1. Over $900 million for conservation and counting. The first stamp was issued in 1934. It cost $1 (about $18 in today’s dollars) and sold 635,001 copies. By law, the funds raised go directly to habitat acquisition in the lower 48 states. By now, stamp sales have surpassed $900 million and helped to protect 6.5 million acres of wetland and grassland habitat.

2. A 79-year tradition of beautiful wildlife art. The Migratory Bird Stamp is a beautiful collectible and a great artistic tradition. Since 1949, the design of each year’s duck stamp has been chosen in an open art contest. The 2015 stamp, showing a pair of Ruddy Ducks, is by Jennifer Miller (see a gallery of all stamps back to 1934), who is only the third woman to win the contest.

3. A bargain at $25. Ninety-eight cents of each dollar spent on a stamp goes directly to land acquisition (and immediate related expenses) for the National Wildlife Refuge System. This $25 purchase is perhaps the single simplest thing you can do to support a legacy of wetland and grassland conservation for birds.

4. It’s much more than ducks. Waterfowl hunters have long been the main supporters for the program—the stamps are a requirement for anyone over 16 who wants to hunt. But the funds benefit scores of other bird species, including shorebirds, herons, raptors, and songbirds, not to mention reptiles, amphibians, fish, butterflies, native plants, and more.

5. Save wetlands; save grasslands. Since 1958, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has used stamp revenues to protect “waterfowl production areas”—over 3 million acres—within the critical Prairie Pothole Region. The same program also protects declining prairie-nesting birds in the face of increasing loss of grasslands. As a result, refuges are among the best places to find grassland specialties such as Bobolinks, Grasshopper Sparrows, Clay-colored Sparrows, Sedge Wrens, and others.

6. The benefits are gorgeous. Some of the most diverse and wildlife-rich refuges across the Lower 48 have been acquired with stamp funds. Check out this map—chances are there’s a wildlife refuge near you that has benefited:

7. It’s your free pass to refuges. A migratory bird stamp is a free pass for an entire year to all refuges that charge for admission—so your $25 could even save you money.

8. As bird watchers, let’s get in on the secret. Though it’s long been a fixture in hunting circles, the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp is one of the best-kept secrets in all of bird conservation. It’s time to buy and show your stamp!

The Cornell Lab is a strong supporter of the Migratory Bird Stamp, and we’ve often written about its value as a direct aid to conservation—for example, in this 2009 column by Lab director John Fitzpatrick. You can buy the stamp at many U.S. Post Offices, National Wildlife Refuges, and sporting-goods stores. You can also order the stamp online at the USPS store and from the stamp’s printer, Amplex (both stores add a charge for shipping).

(Thanks to the Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp for help in preparing this post.)