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.

New self-paced course: Learn How to Identify Bird Songs, Click to Learn More

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.)


  • Vito Andolini

    THANK YOU, Cornell Lab! You’ve brought up a great subject and a way that birders and waterfowlers can work on the SAME vital project. Besides, much of the current money is really helping preserve grasslands, not differentiating between the prairie songbirds and the neighboring ducks saved. Bravo!

  • Ric Zarwell

    Like it or not, birders and nature lovers of every kind are in a race to give perpetual protection to high priority wetland and grassland habitats before those critical habitats are lost to the ever present bulldozers, strip malls, and all sorts of other man-made obstructions that simply do wildlife no good whatsoever. The Migratory Bird Hunting & Conservation Stamp, with 98% of purchase price going directly to fend off continuously expanding habitat destruction, is a tremedous vehicle for accomplishing what ALL birders, wildlife photographers, hikers, environmental educators, fishers, canoers, etc. should want to accomplish. This is a no brainer! Making the purchase of an inexpensive Stamp with such a great up-side a non-hunter vs. hunter issue is simplistic and foolish thinking. ALL wildlife, plus surface water quality, ground water recharge, scenic qualities, and human connections to quiet nature gain – when more Stamps are purchased, and many more acres of priority habitat is saved for future generations. Please re-read the 8 excellent reasons listed above and then go by a Stamp for yourself, and several for gifts to loved ones. Thank you.

  • Charles Barnard Jr

    Where is the documentation which shows what percentage of duck stamp sales are purchased by hunters? I believe that hunters do account for the majority of purchases, but a substantial minority may well be purchased by non-hunters who have an interest in conservation.

  • Charles, the documentation on duck stamp sales by state can be found here:

    It shows that the average number of stamps sold over the last 15 years is around 1.5 million. Another report by the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) states that for the 2011 season, out of the 13.7 million hunters, there were only 1.3 million waterfowl hunters:

    The USFWS page on land aquisitions can be found here:

    They estimate that about 10% of Duck Stamps are sold to non-hunters.

    I must point out that the map showing refuges “funded by the stamp” is a bit misleading. The map actually shows refuges funded by the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (MBCF) which is partially made up of Duck Stamp sales. Here are the figures from the land acquisition link above:

    “Although excise taxes on firearms and ammunition have provided over $2.5 billion to the states for wildlife and habitat management none of that money has been used to acquire lands for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

    The sale of Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps (Duck Stamps) have brought in about $477 million since 1934. Approximately 10 percent of the Duck Stamp revenues come from non-hunters (stamp collectors, art dealers, hobbyists). Another $197 million has been added to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund as an “advance loan” from the Treasury. Finally, about $153 million has been added to the MBCF from import duties on firearms and ammunition and from refuge entrance fees.

    Collectively, these MBCF funds have purchased about 2.7 million acres (about 3 percent of Refuge System lands). An additional 1.4 million acres (about 1.5 percent of Refuge System lands) have been purchased using about $1 billion from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Most refuge lands (almost 90 percent) have been withdrawn from the public domain.”

  • Presenting the bird stamp program as supporting bird habitat is only a half truth — it also insures waterfowl hunting will continue on National Wildlife Refuge lands. The bird stamp program secures more land primarily for hunting, not for birding, as the National Wildlife Refuge land is closed to birders and photographers half a year — during hunting season — in most places.

    The waterfowl hunting going on in the National Wildlife Refuge system needs to be discussed. Waterfowl is slaughtered yearly on Wildlife Reserves, despite the fact that the populations of several species are at an historic low. To allow hunters to turn Wildlife Reserves into shooting galleries is a betrayal of the trust enshrined in the creation of the National Wildlife Reserves. The duck stamp is perpetuating this reversal of why the Reserves were created in the first place.

    Trying to sort out who contributes to grassland and wetland conservation is murky when all contributors are lumped into the “bought a duck stamp” column. There is a proposal to create a National Wildlife Conservation Stamp that would parallel the duck stamp. This would create a credible accounting of who is supporting what. You can read about it here: http://wildlifeconservationstamp.org/the-proposal.

  • Dave Magpiong

    Annetta / CLO –

    Thank you for shining a spotlight on this significant bird conservation program.

    Amidst the many threats to birds and other wildlife on a grand scale, the Stamp is one key step that can unite outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes in helping to preserve beautiful vistas and critical habitats for a variety of species.

    I appreciate you posting these 8 reasons – I’m curious how many others we could come up with?! Perhaps:

    – preserving some of our natural heritage for our children/grandchildren
    – continuing to create urban refuges to bring the benefits of birding/nature to inner city folks
    – highlighting a common concern for the environment shared by many

    Ahh, the list could go on and on ;)

  • Harry Glasgow

    Please note that the Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp helped prepare this posting. The Friends are a growing organization that promotes the “duck”stamp as a great source of revenue for natural lands preservation. Every year (including this one), we see attempts in Congress to emasculate funding for these programs. We can’t expect the “Stamp” to foot the whole bill, but it can help while our Congressional leaders get their heads screwed on straight.

    Harry Glasgow

  • Dave Magpiong

    Harry – That is a great point. It seems that conservation is under more legislative threats than ever. The “Duck Stamp” is probably more important than ever as political forces try to gut government spending and conservation issues are some of the first to be jettisoned.

  • Marlin Greene is correct. The hunting at National Wildlife Refuges must stop. They have Wildlife Management Areas and other places to go to slaughter wildlife and rare animals; shutting down a Wildlife Refuge for a good part of the year is insane. As pointed out, rare and declining species are not taken off the list. Why call it a “Refuge” when slaughter is allowed and people can’t go see the beauty of nature while hunters slaughter animals and leave their shell casings littering the paths and waters? If proceeds go to purchase land, then that land should be designated as land for breeding and nature observing and free from the slaughter that should take place on other lands.

  • Paul Baicich

    First, thanks to the Cornell Lab for bringing this important issue to the attention of folks who may not be familiar with the stamp.

    Next, Harry and Dave are right. Before this Congress went on August recess, the House came close to eliminating (yes, with ZERO funding) these vital bird conservation and land acquisition programs:

    State Wildlife Grants
    Neotropical Bird Conservation Act
    Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs)
    North American Wetlands Conservation Act
    Land and Water Conservation Fund

    The last two programs are simply essential for habitat acquisition.

    The members of Congress will come back after Labor Day, and they will, unfortunately, pick up where they left off.

    Stamp/MBCF funds are, thankfully, out of their current reach. The stamp remains one of the easiest and most reliable vehicles to secure wetland and grassland habitat for birds. If things continue in this direction, the stamp will become more than “easy and reliable.” It will also become crucial.

  • Drew Grainger ’75

    A little research, or familiarity with refuges, waterfowl hunting regulations, and waterfowl hunting would show that virtually nothing that Mr. Stalnaker emotes upon has any basis in fact. Waterfowl hunting is probably the most highly regulated kind of outdoor recreation. There is a separate Chapter in New York hunting regulations to address hunting at Montezuma NWR – where I started serious birding. Refuges are hardly closed for half the year due to waterfowl hunting. Most waterfowl seasons in New York are less than two months in length. Seasons and limits are established on a flyway basis by state and federal wildlife managers each year, based on population and habitat trends. Furthermore, in my experience waterfowl hunters are a breed apart amongst hunters. Waterfowl hunting is a very expensive sport and generally attracts a knowledgable group of people. Ducks Unlimited was started in Sullivan County, NY in the 30s by hunters concerned with declines in duck populations and habitat.
    Thanks to the Lab for putting this article on line. Every birder, especially those who bird the NWRs (as I do, these days most often Savannah National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina) should purchase a duck stamp and thereby join another large group of dedicated conservationists.

  • Fiona

    There are many ways for us to support nature. I like some of the eight reasons given in the article, and some of the comments that followed from readers, but I leave the Duck Stamps to the hunters. Buying a stamp symbolically means that one condones non-subsistence hunting. I don’t agree in killing Anseriformes (or anything else), for fun. I just finished reading Humans Need Three Hands by Drats, and it’s time Cornell, the AOU, Audubon, and the rest consider this book’s philosophy regarding Homocentrism (always putting human needs first) and stand up to the good o’l boy hunting lobby. I will continue to pull invasive alien plants and contribute via citizen science like GBBC.
    Don’t buy a duck stamp; donate to The Nature Conservancy, or your local state or county park. Donate to the USFWS endangered species program. Donate to something that does not involve hunting. Thank you very much.
    ps- I wonder what percentage of hunters in the US have read Humans Need Three Hands?

  • Sarah Kane

    Is it true that you will be counted as a hunter under all the ways mentioned here to buy the duck stamp? My understanding is the system is not set up to separate out non-consumptive (read birdwatchers and wildlife watchers, and photographers) and never will be. Is there a way one can be counted as a non-consumptive user? I don’t want to buy one and be counted as a hunter.

  • Kashi Davis

    Ditto to everything Drew said, esp about how well regulated waterfowl hunting is. It’s a shame that some people will let their distaste for hunting stand in the way of land preservation. At this critical juncture, I think it is important for people to look at the big picture – you may not like the idea of hunting, but at this point preserving land is a far better outcome than letting it be developed. Remember that poorly planned and widespread development is actually the enemy here, not people who enjoy nature in a different way than you.

  • I make a point of writing a blog each year on reasons to buy a duck stamp. I’m delighted that ABA is offering duck stamps this year so birders can buy through that agency and show that they also choose to help provide habitat for birds. I live and volunteer on wildlife refuges and get to see how duck stamp monies are spent and how the birds benefit.

  • Cynthia

    I appreciate Marlins comments and information about hunters. I agree with her concern about the land and the reason for its existence as a refuge not as a hunters refuge. Wildlife needs to be protected from evasive predators.

  • Michtou

    I’ve been buying duck stamps for years, but it really bothers me that hunting of ducks is still allowed. I love birds and hate every gunshot I hear when I got to the local wildlife refuge. A refuge should not be a place where animals go to be killed. I also resent that half of our local refuge is not accessible to the public during the hunting season so barbarians can get their kill thrill.

  • Frenchbull

    this is a great cause!!

  • Liz Gordon

    Dear Sarah, ABA will count your purchase as purchased by a Birder!
    The problem is the staff working the duck stamp is so small they don’t have the resources so we are trying to help them fulfill this great need. We do not make anything off the duck stamp we do however help offset our cost of the program with a shipping and handling fee.

Eight Great Reasons to Love the Migratory Bird Stamp