Hunters and Birders, Not Mutually Exclusive


Hunters and birders have more in common than might be assumed. Both support the conservation of wetlands and other bird habitat. Some people even identify themselves as both a hunter and a birder, as well as a conservationist. Yearly purchase of the Duck Stamp is an excellent way to actively support bird conservation.

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This is Playa Country — a weekly look at the wildlife, wetlands and prairies of the western Great Plains, and the people who manage them — brought to you by Playa Lakes Joint Venture, an organization dedicated to conserving birds and bird habitat.

Our topic is hunters, bird watchers, and the Duck Stamp. Hunters like to go into the wilderness with shotguns and harvest birds. Bird watchers or “birders,” go into the wilderness with binoculars in order to look at birds or photograph them. On first glance, the two groups might seem at odds. But Christopher Rustay, of Playa Lakes Joint Venture, says it’s his experience that Auduboners and other bird watchers are starting to come around and understand that hunters and birders both want the same thing.

“We both want to have enough birds that we can view them, or hunt them, and not have to worry about their populations plummeting.”

I had a conversation on this topic with David Sibley, a familiar name to birders. Sibley is a writer, bird illustrator, and author of The Sibley Guide to Birds.

“My father grew up hunting, and I’ve done a little bit of hunting, and I think the motivation of bird watchers and hunters is very, very similar. I think most hunters would agree that the excitement is the chase: the search for your quarry, and getting to know the species that you’re looking for, learning how to identify it, where it will hang out, where you can expect to find it, getting there at the right place and the right time, getting into position to get close to that species. In all those ways, birding and hunting are exactly alike.”

That brings us to the topic of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp — the Duck Stamp. Purchase of the stamp is required for waterfowl hunters over 16. Ninety-eight percent of proceeds collected from duck stamp sales go directly into waterfowl habitat preservation and conservation, and directly support the more than 560 National Wildlife Refuges across the states.

“The fact that hunters are actually taking something home with them is a big part of why a program like the Duck Stamp caught on with hunters a lot sooner than birders. Birders are using the resources. They’re out there using National Wildlife Refuges and taking advantage of this public land, but since bird watchers aren’t actually taking something home with them, it doesn’t feel like you should have to pay for that.”

He says hunters, since they harvest birds, are required to purchase the Duck Stamp, and are proud to support the work accomplished with Duck Stamp funds.

“I think that’s what’s changing in the birding community — the realization that National Wildlife Refuges really aren’t free. This public land that’s preserved for wildlife really isn’t free; we all have to do our part to support that.”

Christopher Rustay says birders need to support conservation through duck stamp purchases.

“Because we don’t have a tax on binoculars. We don’t have a tax on bird books. We don’t have a tax on the equipment that we use for birding that helps do bird conservation. That’s why I’m saying this is an important thing for us as birders to contribute to.”

Naturalist Scott Weidensaul, who writes and lectures on wildlife says the money that comes out of the Duck Stamp program goes off in a lot of different directions.

“More than you can say about pretty much any other government program, virtually every penny of it is on the ground doing good work for wildlife — either in terms of habitat acquisition or habitat restoration. In terms of bang for the buck, there’s just nothing else like the Duck Stamp program.”

And so it turns out, hunters and birders really are aiming for a common goal: the preservation of waterfowl and a host of other birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, grasses and forbes that populate the nation’s Wildlife Refuges. The annual purchase of the Duck Stamp directly supports the conservation of those Refuges.

Playa Country, a weekly show about the wildlife, people and landscapes of the western Great Plains. Made possible by the Playa Lakes and Rainwater Basin Joint Ventures.

Original broadcast: January 2014

Posted: October 19, 2014
Topics: Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp