Can You Draw a Duck?

Can You Draw a Duck?

Did you know that the United States government sponsors an annual art competition? If you think it’s under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Arts, though, you’re wrong. It’s actually an outgrowth of the work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, part of the Department of the Interior.

Once upon a time, North America teemed with wildlife. But soon after settlers from across the seas intruded, native birds, animals, fish, and vegetation began to decline. Some were killed outright by hunters, for food and other products, such as feathers for fashion and leather for shoes. Others died when their habitat turned into farmland, housing developments, and industrial centers.

duck-illustrationBy 1934, loss of wildlife assumed epidemic proportions with many species driven to extinction. In order to promote conservation, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act, designed to stop the destruction of wetlands vital to migratory waterfowl. Under the act, all waterfowl hunters 16 years of age and over must annually buy and carry a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp–better known today as a Federal Duck Stamp.

Ninety-eight cents of every duck stamp dollar goes directly into the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to purchase or lease land for inclusion in the National Wildlife Refuge System. This ensures there will be land for wildlife that will be protected for generations to come.

Since 1934, $800 million from stamp sales has gone into that fund to protect more than 6.5 million acres of habitat. One of the reasons for the Duck Stamp’s success is that anyone can buy the stamp, which can also be used as an annual “pass” to national wildlife refuges charging entrance fees.

Conservationists buy duck stamps to support the effort, knowing that virtually all the money will go directly toward conserving habitat. Stamp collectors purchase the stamp anticipating increases in value. Hunters willingly pay the stamp price to ensure the survival of our natural resources. And many hunters buy two duck stamps each year–one to comply with the regulation, and one as a collector’s item and an additional contribution to conservation.


The very first Federal Duck Stamp in 1943 featured a design by Jay N. “Ding” Darling. For the next few years, noted wildlife artists were invited to submit designs to be considered for the stamp. In 1949, the Fish and Wildlife Service established a contest to determine the stamp image. See last year’s winners here. Realism (think John James Audubon) seems to be a plus with the judges.

The current Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Art Contest is open to all U.S. citizens, nationals, and resident aliens who are at least 18 years of age by June 1, 2016.

We’re dealing with the government, so there are lots of federal guidelines. Complete information, entry forms, and regulations can be found here.

But I’ll summarize them:

Five or fewer species of waterfowl are selected each year and one of these is required to be the dominant feature of your entry (defined as being in the foreground and clearly the focus of attention). The waterfowl species eligible in 2016 are:

  • Brant
  • Canada goose
  • Northern shoveler
  • Red-breasted merganser
  • Steller’s eider

The design must be the contestant’s original hand-drawn creation. The entry may be in any media EXCEPT photography or computer-generated art. Each entry must be 7″ x 10″ and matted over with bright white matting. The matting must be 1″ wide.

The deadline is fast approaching. Artists may submit their artwork and entry fee beginning on June 1, 2016. No early entries will be accepted. All artwork must be postmarked no later than midnight Aug. 15, 2016.

What does the winner get? No money. Basically, just bragging rights. And yet, competition is fierce. Last year 157 entrees were accepted. You can see them all here.

Will you enter? Share in the comments below if you’re going for it.


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