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Purchase a Migratory Bird Stamp

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service produces the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, which sells for $15 and raises about $25 million each year to provide critical funds to conserve and protect wetland and grassland habitats in the National Wildlife Refuge system for the benefit of wildlife and the enjoyment of people. The 2013-2014 Stamp shows a lovely male Common Goldeneye painted by Robert Steiner, an artist from San Francisco, California. Since the 1930s, Stamps have contributed over $850 million and have helped to protect 5.5 million acres of habitat for wildlife and future generations. Anyone who possesses a valid stamp is allowed free entry to any National Wildlife Refuge that may charge for entry.

Buying the stamp is perhaps the single simplest thing individuals can do to support a legacy of wetland and grassland conservation for birds. Almost all the stamp proceeds go to help secure valuable Refuge System habitats. Here are a few reasons to purchase the stamp.

1. $850 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 $850 million and helped to protect 5.5 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. This year’s stamp, showing a Common Goldeneye, is by Robert Steiner (see a gallery of all stamps back to 1934), who also won the 1998–1999 contest with a Barrow’s Goldeneye—a stamp that sold 1,627,521 copies and raised more than $24 million on its own.

3. A bargain at $15. Ninety-eight cents of each dollar spent on a stamp goes directly to land acquisition (and immediate related expenses) for national wildlife refuges. This $15 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”—to the tune of 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.

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 $15 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).