Duck stamps have raised $1.2 billion for conservation since 1934 — and this year's design is cuter than ever

A Koloa Maoli (Hawaiian duck) sits in the water

If you want to go hunting in the United States, you need to have the right duckuments.

Fortunately for the country’s hunters, bird watchers, and stamp collectors, this year’s Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp — or as its known colloquially, the Duck Stamp — has officially hit the scene.

The Duck Stamp plays a vital role in wildlife conservation in the U.S. and has since 1934. Over the course of 90 years of sales, the stamp has raised more than $1.2 billion to conserve over 6 million acres of wetlands habitat on national wildlife refuges nationwide.

A stamp with a duck on it. "US Department of the Interior Northern Pintail, Void after June 30, 2025. Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp"
This year's Federal Duck Stamp. Photo courtesy of Chuck Black/USFWS

It’s also grounds for a beloved art tradition: The Federal Duck Stamp Contest and Junior Duck Stamp Contest. These friendly competitions invite artists young and old to contribute their duck-themed artworks for consideration to go on the final stamp.

“I am honored to be one of the first people to buy the 2024-2025 Federal and Junior Duck Stamps!” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams. 

“I hope everyone across the country will join me in putting their stamp on wetland conservation and celebrating the artists who have dedicated their passion towards wildlife and the great outdoors.”

A group of US Fish & Wildlife representatives stand with the winners of this year's duck stamp competition inside of a Bass Pro Shops
First Day of Sale for 2024-2025 Federal and Junior Duck Stamps. Photo by Valerie Fellows/USFWS

The national winner of this year’s art contest is Chuck Black of Belgrade, Montana, whose painting of a northern pintail was selected from 199 entries. 

The Junior Duck Stamp artist is 17-year-old Emily Lian from Oregon, whose design will raise funds to support youth conservation education.

Interest in the stamp has skyrocketed in recent years as another competitor, Kira Sabin, created their TikTok account to explain the importance of the Duck Stamp and take followers on their journey to winning the national contest.

“If you’re a good hunter, you’re also a conservationist. It’s their money that has primarily supported the wetlands for decades,” Sabin explained in a thorough TikTok video, answering the frequently asked questions about the Federal Duck Stamp.

“98 cents to every dollar sold goes directly back to the land, and they raise about $40 million each year.”

Kira Sabin wears a brown Bass Pro Shops crewneck sweatshirt and sports a short, red haircut. They are standing in front of lush greenery and holding a painting of two ducks
Photo courtesy of Kira Sabin/Instagram

While Sabin did not earn the coveted spot this year, their work is still featured on the physical keepsake, with a drawing of the companion species to the winning duck printed on the souvenir stamp sheet issued by the USPS and Fish and Wildlife Service. 

While post offices do carry these collectable stamp sheets, it should be noted that this stamp is not intended for postage, but rather as a permit to enter wildlife refuges (or just as a special keepsake to show one’s love of America’s wetlands).

Duck Stamps are required for waterfowl hunters as part of their annual license. Additionally, they are voluntarily purchased by birders, outdoor enthusiasts and fans of national wildlife refuges. A Federal Duck Stamp also acts as free admission to any national wildlife refuge.

Funds raised from Federal Duck Stamps will go toward the acquisition and lease of habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System. And it’s not just the ducks that reap the benefits; thousands of other shorebirds, herons, songbirds, countless mammals, fish, native plants, and more, rely on the conservation of U.S. wetlands for their survival.

An aerial view of a variety of different drawings of ducks
Entries in the Junior Duck Stamp Contest. Photo courtesy of USFWS

“As you know, the Duck Stamp is a conservation stamp,” Sabin said in a TikTok. “It’s a super easy way to support our wetlands, and you guys should all be cool and buy one.” 

Indeed, anyone can purchase a Duck Stamp, but now it’s more accessible than ever.

For the first time this year, since President Biden passed the Duck Stamp Modernization Act of 2023 (yes, that’s a real thing), these $29 stamps are now available both as a physical keepsake, but also as an electronic pass. 

Digital versions of the stamp are available on Amplex, and physical copies can be purchased online, at sporting goods and retail stores, some post offices, and national wildlife refuges.

And for the Duck Stamp enthusiasts like Sabin — who sells prints of their work and donates a percentage of earnings back to buying more Duck Stamps — the $29 price tag represents one of their favorite purchases all year.

“Birds have always been a constant in my life,” Sabin wrote on TikTok earlier this year. “Life becomes much more beautiful when you start to notice how many different kinds there are, how they act, how they spend their time, and how significant their small life is.”

Header image courtesy of Laurel Smith/USFWS

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July 1, 2024 12:48 PM
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