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How the Harlequin Duck Lost His Life

JAG NM EclipseThe title of this post is meant to mark it as the less cheery companion to the May 2012 Birding magazine article, “How the Harlequin Duck Got His Spots.” That article, if you haven’t yet read it, is a really wonderful piece of birder ornithology, the work of passionate amateurs that measurably advances our understanding of the processes behind the creation of one of Nature’s masterpieces: the gaudy, gorgeous plumage of drake Harlequin Ducks.

Built around a series of ten photos by Paul Higgins and text by Keith Evans that follows a hatch year male Harlequin over a pivotal 2 months in his life, during which he goes from looking very much like his Mom to very much like his Dad. The first and last shots in that sequence are shown below. (Note: Higgins’ photos are much better looking in the magazine than they are in the crummy scans I did for this post.)

HADU for blog.001

This insight was possible for two main reasons. One, there were some birders who were interested enough to watch and photograph this bird (actually, there were 3 Harlequins present, but the article focuses on Harley One, as they called him) over several months. Two, there were confiding Harlequin Ducks hanging out in an accessible location that could be easily revisited, in this case the Antelope Island causeway just north of Salt Lake City, Utah.

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The story takes what many, but not all, will consider a darker turn from here.

I will leave it to those who know the particulars better than I to fill in more detail but the gist of it is this: not long after that last November 25 photo was taken, the Harlequin Ducks were shot and killed by a hunter or hunters. That’s how Harley One, so soon after getting his spots, lost his life.

There are a couple of other things worth mentioning in framing what I hope will be a productive discussion in the comments section. It was legal for the hunter(s) to shoot Harlequin Ducks, unquestionably. Though many birders in areas where Harlequin Ducks are rare might find the thought of Harley hunting foreign, even a bit hard to picture, a quick Google image search on Harlequin Duck Hunting will return plenty of evidence that it does occur.

Further, it was apparently legal for the birds to be shot from Antelope Island causeway, though, again, that might come as a surprise to many, given that it is a fairly heavily trafficked road just outside a major metropolitan area.

Finally, there is at least suspicion, and again I hope those closer to the events will chime in, that the hunters heard of the ducks’ presence on the causeway by reading a birding e-mail list. I would like to have this assertion definitively proved or disproved, but such may not be possible.

Here are a few points I’d like us to discuss, for starters:

1. Though I find that bird hunters and birders generally want the same basic thing, good bird populations and habitat, this is a case where the interests of a very few hunters completely trumped the interests of a much larger number of birders. (Or maybe I’ve got that wrong—maybe the interests of the entire hunting community were served by just one or two individuals getting to shoot those ducks? It’s important to get the questions right if we’re to have any hope of finding good answers.) What, if anything, are we to do about this, to lessen the chances that it happens again?

2. What, if any, legal or ethical restrictions are there or ought there be on those who would harvest, for science or for sport, wild birds that are likely to be seen, enjoyed, and even studied by many more people, if they are left alive?

3. What, if any, restrictions should we place on the sharing of bird locations among our community, knowing that such information may from time to time result in harm coming to those birds, whether from birders, photographers, hunters, or ornithologists?

4. How would you like to see the American Birding Association respond to situations like this? How should our Code of Ethics be revised or appended to address them?

5. This winter, quite a few people got very, very upset at the actions of photographers flushing Snowy Owls in attempts to photograph them. How is this incident the same or different, worse or better?

Hunters and hunting, and their relationships to birders, birding, and conservation is certainly one of those topics that can generate more heat than light. Though I’m not asking anyone to pull any punches, I do ask that commenters keep their tone civil and respectful. Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts and feelings.

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Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon is the president of the American Birding Association. There's very little about birds, birding, and birders that he doesn't find fascinating, though he's especially interested in birding culture and the many ways we all communicate our passion for birds, including this Blog.
  • Morgan Churchill

    If these birds were highly visible, are we certain that information from bird listserves led to the ducks death? and not simply some lazy* hunters who noticed a bird close to the road?

    *not saying all hunters are lazy…a good chunk of my family hunts and most are true sportsmen. But every hobby, including birding, has some people who participate in not very sportsman like behavior.

  • J

    Seems pretty simple. Let hunters hunt and birdwatchers watch while enforcing laws to protect populations.

  • Terry Mannell

    While I was a hunter as a young man, I have found that I would rather capture birds with a pair of binoculars than a shotgun. I understand the need for hunting to manage wildlife where human intervention to the predetor population has completely distroyed the natural order of things. That being said,the whole issue of what can be hunted and where, often comes down to a matter of dollars. In many states the only way to raise money for conservation efforts is through the sales of hunting (and fishing) licenses which in return allow states to acquire federal dollars. In Kansas for every dollar raised through the sales of licenses, the state gets three dollars from the feds. Keeping this in mind, it is easy to see why state wildlife agencies always design laws that favor hunters. In my opinion, the only way to change this is for non-consumptive conservation minded people to convince state governments to allow us to help pay the bill and in return help design the laws.

  • J: Thanks for commenting. I wouldn’t disagree in the main, but here’s a case where the hunters (and just a few hunters) ended the watching in a very public, accessible place (i.e., where there was a great deal of watching and would have been more). How do the interests of one or two balance against the interests of dozens or hundreds?

  • First, I have hunted. Once a long time ago with my father-in-law we and I probably would have missed had we seen any pheasants. I have friends that hunt.

    My objection, as with most of the birdwatching community is with ‘Slob’ Hunters.

    As far as ‘Slob’ Birders, item 1(b) should cover the birders.

    Many organization of photographers have similar items. The Nature Photographers Network has a code of conduct [ and one item says, “Never let your presence cause the animal any stress. If there is a sign of stress, pull back.” The North American Nature Photography Association has Principles of Field Practices ( It states, “Do not distress wildlife or their habitat. Respect the routine needs of animals.”

    The problem is slobs, and that is more and more of problem on our increasingly crowded planet earth.

  • Cliff

    The Falcated Duck at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge this past winter could have suffered the same fate if it had been found outside the non-hunting zone. Hunters found out about it from the listservs and then on a hunting discussion forum several were talking about ways to get it to leave the non-hunting area so they could shoot it. In Humboldt County, there is a hunter who checks the listserv and the local telephone birdbox because he uses it to find rare ducks to shoot for trophies. He shot a Steller’s Eider on South Humboldt Bay years ago. Hunters and falconers can and do use directions birders give for rare birds to their advantage.

  • Would this article have been written if the duck in question was a Mallard? Or if the Harlequin had been hit by a birder’s car racing to see a rarity?

    Personally, I’d prefer to see more emphasis placed on large scale conservation efforts that affect populations than to ponder the incidental deaths of individual birds that have no significant impact whatsoever on a species’ health.

    As well, why consider giving birders more rights than hunters or scientists? I hope that we as a group don’t become so shrill and obnoxious as to demand our eccentric niche hobby be placed on such a pedestal.

  • Jeff-

    There was a similar incident in Ohio. Many were on the way to see a “life Ohio” Harlequin when we got word it had just been shot (in downtown Cleveland, no less)by a hunter. They are protected on the Atlantic flyway, but since they do not regularly occur here- Ohio has no such law.

    Maybe we do need to re-think these cases. If a bird is protected within its normal range, shouldn’t that protection extend to other areas as well? Thanks for opening the conversation.

    Cheryl Harner

  • Hi Victor, and thanks for your comments.

    To take up a couple of your points, there would be little issue if the bird in question was a Mallard. The rarity of the bird is what gave it its high value, for the birders and for the trophy hunters. So I’m not sure how your hypothetical helps us to understand or deal with the situation at hand.

    As to the car collision, yes, the 21st century, first world lifestyle many of us lead has severe repercussions for wildlife populations. That’s equally true for hunters, birders, skateboarders, coin collectors, or just about any other hobbyist group you want to name. Again, I’m unsure how this helps us here.

    Large scale conservation efforts are key, as you say. But that doesn’t make, “deaths of individual birds that have no significant impact whatsoever on a species’ health,” entirely insignificant. Clearly, it’s meaningful to people on a personal level. And I firmly believe that how people feel about issues of this sort has immense bearing on how likely we are to get those large scale conservation efforts off the ground, or sustain them.

    I’m not following you contention that anyone is considering giving *more* rights to birders than to hunters or scientists. I’m wondering if there’s a way to bring them into better balance.

    Finally, who’s being shrill or obnoxious? Nobody I see or hear. And as for a pedestal, I don’t think see it. I find that as a group, the interests of birders and other wildlife watchers and photographers are placed far below those of hunters, especially when you look at the numbers of people participating.

    I don’t see birding as eccentric or a niche (which isn’t to say we birders don’t have our eccentricities!). I see the promotion of an interest and appreciation of nature as being fundamental to quality of life and environmental health. Birding is an outstanding way to get large numbers of people excited about nature with very low impact.

    Anyhow, I do appreciate your participating in the discussion, even if we differ on a number of points.

  • Cliff,

    I was hoping somebody with direct knowledge would mention the Falcated Duck situation. I remember seeing a link to that forum, but I’ve lost it. You don’t have it, do you?

    Thanks for commenting.

  • Hey Jeff,

    Interesting topic, and important questions. I wonder what do YOU (the collective ABA ‘you’) think could/should be done?

    I’d like to see what ABA recommends first, and either choose to accept it, or maybe be invited to respond to the proposed changes. Do you think this is an area where ABA should try to exert influence?

  • Jake McCumber

    The mention of giving one group more rights than another is typically used to shut down conversation rather than foster compromise or understanding. It is also used to maintain a powerful position.

    The action of identifying locations or even certain specific situations (e.g. a rare bird with high visibility) as off limits to a particular action (hunting, off road vehicle use, etc.) is not giving one group more rights than another. There are plenty of places for all of those groups to participate in their activity. A highly visible group of Harlequin Ducks, a charismatic species, is not only valued by birders, but provides a gateway to others who have not been pulled into nature watching or conservation. If game agencies, transportation managers, and others with the ability to make temporary access restrictions do so it is not infringing on the rights of hunters. They can still go to the wildlife refuge, private property, or any other number of properties to shoot common and trophy ducks.

    There needs to be a compromise and that compromise needs to put a value on wildlife watching, particularly near urban areas and for high interest species. That can and will have a population level effect if we can get more people interested by allowing for viewing opportunities rather than shutting down a conversation in the interest of “hunters’ rights.” As a former hunter and a scientifically minded conservation biologist I understand that all of wildlife management is about compromise and weighing values. In instances such as this there is likely a greater value is on viewing opportunities rather than easy access to a wall trophy. However, this should also be determined by an open conversation giving reasonable and equal power to different interest groups.

    One thing I’ve seen way too often with the idea of “mixed use” public land management is that not enough value is given to low impact, non-intrusive “uses” or activities. Snowmobiling makes it very hard to enjoy snowshoeing and hunting can at times make it difficult to enjoy wildlife watching. There should be places to enjoy public land in all of these ways, but not everywhere should be available to all uses and quiet users or wildlife watchers shouldn’t be relegated to designated wilderness just to avoid high-impact users. Off-road vehicle users, snowmobilers, and hunters all have powerful lobbying groups. Wildlife watchers, hikers, and others will need the same to compete in the context of mixed-use. Otherwise mixed-use tends to mean any and all uses no matter the impact on others.

  • Ted Floyd

    Warning: This starts out on a light-hearted note.

    Oh, boy. Oh, yes. If the Harlequin had been hit by a birder’s car racing to see a rarity, we sure woulda heard about it! “Those evil listers! Those wicked chasers! At least they were driving a Prius, but, still!”

    Remember the urban legend about the chased Black Rail found dead imprinted with the insignia of a Sierra Club hiking boot? (Not that the Sierra Club puts its insignias on the heels of hiking boots…)

    Being a bit more serious now, I believe that we birders do a pretty good job, all things considered, of recognizing and attempting to discourage “slob birder” behavior. Jeff mentioned the birding community’s reaction to the behavior of a few bad apple birders during the recent Snowy Owl invasion, and I think that’s a good comp with the Harlequin Duck affair.

    To put a positive spin on all of this, I think we would do well to view the Harlequin Duck affair as a “teachable moment.” That hunter (or those hunters) gave hunters a black eye. Increasingly, these days, our actions as birders are public and visible. When we do dumb things (flush Snowy Owls, use playback excessively, harass birds at nests, etc.), we often attract attention. I do understand and accept that such infractions are minor when compared to our actions that affect whole populations (Victor Degueyter’s important point); nevertheless, such actions do tend to get noticed, the stories have a way of going viral, and the upshot isn’t good for the birding community–and, by extension, for the good work the birding community is trying to accomplish.

  • Cliff

    I can look for the link to the posts on the hunting forum but I don’t have it saved right now. I remember going to the forum and being shocked at the way the hunters were thinking up ways to harass the thousands of ducks and geese on that impoundment just to shoot a single bird that many birders were traveling to see. They were making jokes about how pissed the birders would be if they killed the duck. It was pretty asinine.

  • Dave Barry

    Perhaps birders in a polite way could of set up an education table asking the hunters not to harvest these specific Harlequin ducks. I find most hunters willing to cooperate. Remember birding and National Audubon were founded by hunters !

    Jeff, your post makes it sound as if the ducks were shot from the road ? In California that is illegal ! And in free roam areas you must be a specified distance from a road or parking lot.


  • Joe

    Hi Jeff – You are correct when you mentioned birding and hunting can certainly be a topic of contention. As other posters have mentioned, all hobbies have their “slobs” and short cut takers. I fall into the more education is needed category and all the conservancy groups working together to get as many areas such as this protected, or perhaps zones of exclusion. But then it comes down to dollars and how can it be enforced. I wish I had the answers. I always follow these discussions having family members who hunt. I will say though they do so lawfully and without waste. I will close with what happened to me just 3 days ago. It is spring turkey season here right now and I was birding alone, walking the road in a public WMA. A turkey hunter came out walking past me towards the parking lot. I nodded politely and asked how it went. His response was to the effect it would have went much better if some idiot with binoculars wasn’t walking around the area during “prime” time. I just smiled and said perhaps he will have better luck next time. I knew there was no point engaging this guy in a conversation. But that’s typical of what birders are up against in some areas. Thanks for the forum! Joe, Madison NE

  • Jeff, I am one of the bird photographers who photographed these Harlequin Ducks for weeks along the Antelope Island Causeway.

    From September 30, 2011 until November 25, 2011 birders, bird photographers, locals and tourists were treated to a rarity on the Antelope Island State Park Causeway when on September 30th a female Harlequin Duck showed up at the first “No Swimming Bridge” then later when a male juvenile molting into adult plumage and another female appeared it was even better.

    These ducks are rare in Utah and at the time the first female showed up it would be the 13th record as noted on the Utah Bird Records Committee’s website and likely only the 7th officially accepted and documented. The three Harlequin Ducks seen from September until late November were very well documented as it seemed that every day someone was viewing and photographing them. Many times when driving by that bridge there would be cars lined up 5 in a row and people were out admiring the rare visitors to Utah from a respectful distance.

    While on the island if I saw people with binocs scanning their surroundings I would get out of the vehicle and ask them if they were birders, if they were I would tell them about our rare and beautiful visitors. I wanted to share our good fortune with others as many other people in this area did. People blogged about the rare birds and the Utah birders list servs were buzzing about the Harlequins. There were almost daily reports about the ducks.

    I didn’t even give a thought to hunters reading the posts on birding blogs, forums and list servs. But those posts were being watched very carefully by some duck hunters.

    I am not a hunter though long ago I did do some deer hunting (never killed one) I now only shoot with my camera, I am not against hunting when it is done in an ethical manner.

    As days became weeks the male Harlequin began to show some signs of blue on his back and face, the white bands on his back became more clearly defined and the rusty crown stripe began to appear. What a handsome duck he was, I enjoyed seeing the Harlequins as I drove to or from the island on the causeway and was delighted to see so many cars parked there at the bridge with out of state plates hoping to see our celebrity ducks.

    The last date the Harlequins were reported to have been seen was November 25th and at that time I wondered if the birds had flown to the Pacific Ocean to spend the rest of the winter but have recently found out that the birds were shot and killed and that it was perfectly legal. Duck hunters can shoot along the Antelope Island causeway as long as they follow certain restrictions like not shooting from a vehicle or firing from or over the road.

    Near that first bridge there are spits of sand that jut out into the Great Salt Lake on both the north and south side of the bridge, shooting from those two spits IS legal and it would also be legal to leave the roadway walk down the embankment and shoot from there as long as the hunters aimed out over the water.

    There is a thread on a hunting forum that can be read here ( about the Harlequin Ducks that is interesting as it seems that there were hunters who expressed hope that the rare Harlequin Ducks would not be shot. Others seemed to be chomping at the bit to shoot an “exotic” duck despite them being rarity.

    I made a suggestion of working on having the Antelope Island Causeway listed as an IBA and from there local birders have been working with the DWR’s Regional Advisory Council to at least have a a 100 yard no hunting buffer zone from the causeway.

    My feelings on this event are rather simple, and that is that just because it is legal that doesn’t make it right.

  • Sorry, if you want to read the Utah hunting thread about these Harlies from the beginning, this is the link:

  • Andy Boyce

    I currently live in Montana and do quite a bit of duck hunting each Fall. I have also been a birder for quite some time and I am currently getting my PhD studying the ecology of tropical birds in Borneo. Seeing this issue from both sides I think there is a simple answer in the wording of hunting regulations. If states simply restricted hunting to the relatively common species in a given state (Montana does not allow the take of Harlequins for example because they are rare and declining in the state) I think everyone would benefit. 1) Birders wouldn’t have to worry about rarities getting nailed. 2) Conservationists would feel at ease with hunters only harvesting relatively common species 3)States with large populations of “rare” or “trophy” species would probably see a small uptick in out of state hunters going after those trophies that they cannot legally harvest in their state. If each state simply listed the allowable species in the hunting regs, instead of just listing the species that cannot be taken (leaving the door open to shoot species that managers didn’t even consider may occur in the state), I think the problem would be largely solved.

    Andy Boyce
    University of Montana
    (currently Kinabalu National Park, Sabah, Malaysia)

  • Jake McCumber

    Andy, I keep drafting and deleting responses about how this is the best initial step, at least, but that the politics would be difficult, etc. Mostly, though, I just want to click “Like” as though this was on facebook.

  • Jeff,
    If this had happened to a Mallard, it wouldn’t be newsworthy, yet a Harlequin Duck has more “value” because of its rarity. The only problem is, that value is completely subjective and meaningless except to birders and hunters. Harlequin Ducks and Mallards are at opposite extremes of the “value” spectrum and so the contrast seems obvious to you. But where on the slippery slope between abundant and rare does the tipping point in value take place? My hypothetical tried to express my opinion that the situation at hand is highly arbitrary at best. I don’t claim it’s any more than my opinion, and as unwelcome as it may be, that’s all it is.
    While we birders might see a difference in value between Mallard and Harlequin, apparently the laws of Utah don’t recognize it. While these hunters may have offended birders by killing an exalted Harlequin, they didn’t offend the laws of Utah any more than if they’d taken a lowly Mallard. That’s fact, even if we have problems with it.
    If places that host both hunting and birding denied access to birders expressly to prevent them from finding rarities that might restrict hunting activity, birders would probably be upset. I think hunters would be just as upset if a similar but opposite scenario was true. However, over the years I’ve heard many birders express the view that hunting should take a back seat to birding. However, hunters are just as keen on their hobby as we are, and I doubt they’d want to stay in that back seat. I know that the present instance is an isolated and somewhat unique case, and maybe the Harlequin could have been put off limits. However, because it isn’t a common occurrence it’s pretty low on the list of what’s really important to birds right now.
    As for what birding is and isn’t, I don’t personally see birding as eccentric, but then again, I think it’s perfectly normal to drive across the continent and vomit off the deck of a boat to see new birds. I’m sure that the majority opinion of Americans would say that’s a bit off center. Sure, birds are a great portal to nature. And sure, birding is in my DNA. But people who run over desert tortoises on their 4-wheelers might tell you the same thing about their love. And so might hunters that shoot celebrity ducks off the Antelope Causeway. As for birding being shrill and obnoxious, note that I didn’t state that it is, but that I hoped it wouldn’t become so. I have a feeling that if we launched a campaign to protect rarities from hunters so that birders could enjoy them and use them to introduce the world to the beauties of nature, we would come across as nutty to most people, and shrill and obnoxious to many.
    Since our opinions will never merge, let’s look at the situation realistically. The ABA Code of Ethics can’t even keep some ABA members from trespassing and harassing. Why do we think a position statement will stop people outside of the ABA from doing what they want to do, even when they know that what they’re doing offends birders?
    And let’s reexamine our values. If we want to hook people on the beauty of birds, a rare bird isn’t any more charismatic than a common one. Harlequin Ducks are breathtaking, but so are Cattle Egrets and male House Sparrows in the spring. The added value of rarity doesn’t widen the entry portal to nature to most people. The personality of birds does. I bet more people have been turned on to nature by watching House Sparrows and pigeons than by seeing rare birds.

  • Richard Hubacek

    A rare bird gets to the continental US for the first time. It made a mistake and took the wrong route. It’s shot and killed. This time it’s a collector and the bird ends up as a trophy in a museum tray. No chance for birders to see or get photos. We are now talking “science”. This seems to be acceptable to many.

  • Harris Abramson

    Mutual respect is key. Hunters want the same thing birders want with respect to abundant wetland habitat and robust populations of waterfowl. And they pay to play (which tilts the field to their advantage). But for the same reason birders should not interfere with hunters engaged in their pastime nor should hunters interfere with birders. Shooting a (celebrity) rare species is analogous to wandering the marsh with a noise-maker during hunting season. It ought to be against the law.

    If birders want an equal voice in this type of rulemaking we should pay to play too.

  • Morgan Churchill

    Not comparable:

    1) For one, scientists generally don’t troll listserves and rare bird alerts looking for vagrants to collect. Nearly all ornithologists avoid collecting stray birds that birders first locate: it creates unnecessary controversy which outweighs any benefits to science. and at least in the lower 48, scientists generally avoid collecting at migrant traps popular with birders as well.

    2) The specimens are not trophies, but rather are collected because they can provide data for use in scientific study (DNA, isotopes, morphometric measurements, etc). They will also be housed at facilities that can guarantee access to other researchers and who can maintain collections for long periods of time. In contrast a trophy duck will be mounted on someones shelf and probably eventually thrown out when the owner dies or the specimen becomes damaged in a move, due to lack of maintainence, etc.

    3) Despite how much it’s played up, collection of vagrants is exceedingly rare in the US. The only place it still regularly occurs is in Alaska, and arguably most of those birds are not twitchable, and some are likely going to end up dead anyway. Outside of the recent South American flycatcher from Louisanna, how many other important records can you list from the lower 48 that were collected and did not die of natural causes.

  • I am one of the Utah birders who got to enjoy the Harlequin Ducks and watched them molt before our very eyes until one day they were gone. The listserv of Utah hunters specifically mentions my personal blog as being a source where they learned of the Harlequin’s presence. We don’t know for certain that they were “harvested” by hunters, but we did see chatter about driving them out into open hunting waters so that they could be legally shot. A couple of Utah birders have put things into motion to prohibit hunting from the Antelope Island Causeway, but it isn’t a fast process. It will take months of attending meetings, but looks like the powers that be agree with no hunting on such an important tourist byway.

  • Dan

    Didn’t a hunter shoot a Common Snipe in California last December? We wouldn’t have known about that record if that person hadn’t killed it.

  • pescarconganas

    As as UT resident and a waterfowl hunter, I don’t believe closing the AIC is the way to go. However, Andy Boyce’s ideas regarding rewording hunting rules will be much more effective. UT already manages a swan hunt well, why not be a little more explicit regarding other waterfowl?

    Suppose the AIC is closed to hunting next year, while more Harlequins show up at Bear River and are killed legally. Will we be in a similar discussion regarding legally hunting at BRMBR? I would hope not.

  • There are a handful of records like this in North Carolina too. A Cinnamon Teal, I think, and one of the first inland records of White-winged Dove.

  • Victor, there’s an aspect of the “value” issue that you’re missing, one that’s summed up nicely by our friends and colleagues in Belize: “You can only skin a jaguar once, but you can skin a tourist a thousand times.”

    My husband and I just “twitched” a Hudsonian Godwit visiting a town about 75 miles away. It was only a half-day trip for us, but it resulted in us spending money in both the host community and our own. A Marbled Godwit was present at the same site, along with a number of other lovely birds, but we wouldn’t have made the trip if not for the Hudsonian. Dozens of other birders made even longer trips to see the bird during its six-day stay, and it’s likely that local businesses made hundreds of dollars off this one bird.

    The economic value of rare birds is variable, but it’s not subjective. It also ends abruptly when news of a bird’s departure or death gets around. This is going to sound cold-hearted, but a hunter who terminates a twitch by killing a rare bird does a disservice to the economy, not just fellow hunters and the birding community. The Utah hunter didn’t pay more to the state or feds for the privilege of shooting the Harlequins than he would have to shoot Mallards, nor did he spend more on transportation, food, and lodging than a birding tourist traveling the same distance. The Harlequins are more likely than Mallards to end up stuffed on his mantel, but the taxidermist will benefit at the expense of many other businesses.

    The dwindling hunting community doesn’t need the kind of publicity generated by sociopaths who would scheme to shoot a rarity out from under the noses of birders. The solution Andy Boyce suggests is an excellent one, but convincing state wildlife agencies to implement such changes will likely require birders to join forces with ethical hunters on a state-by-state basis. Maybe ABA could get the ball rolling by contacting the national office of Ducks Unlimited?

  • Since outreach is a big part of my job, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that many people remain blind to the beautiful and fascinating birds around them until they stop to ask a group of birders, “What are you looking at?” A bird rare to the area, in addition to attracting a conspicuous crowd, is likely to have a more compelling story than one that’s normally present. So much the better if it’s also colorful and charismatic, like a Harlequin Duck.

  • John Notis

    I think this is the right idea. Hunting should be limited to species that we’ve done the science on, and know we aren’t impacting negatively. Seems simple and obvious to me, without even considering the other potential users. I fully realize that this spoils things for trophy hunters – it would be like banning the chasing of rarities, except that of course many people can see a rare bird, while only one hunter gets to bag it.

  • I think this is a reasonable forum to throw out an idea I’ve seen around occasionally, and one I like. If we’d like wildlife managers to listen to us as birders, we need to put our money where our mouth is. Would you be willing to pay an extra tax on optics and other birding gear to go to habitat conservation? Would you willingly buy a “bird stamp”? This is tangential to the current debate, but as hunters wane and birders wax, the conservation dollars dwindle, and yet we still have management for ruffed grouse and white-tailed deer, and hunting in areas that perhaps might better be birded.

  • Bonnie

    I’d certainly buy a”bird stamp”. How do we get this rolling?

  • Hey, all,

    Good discussion. I’ve been working with the Utah Regional Advisory Committee for the past 6 months on instituting a 1/4 mile buffer along the Antelope Island causeway. We, Utah Birders, feel that the causeway should have such a buffer for a few different reasons.

    The causeway serves as an important winter migration area for birds such as the Harlequin Ducks that were found there last winter. In the winter, many areas of the Great Salt Lake (GSL) freeze over, and some of the only open water in the area is found near the causeway. Also, because of different salinity levels, water flows from the south side of the causeway to the north side, which stirs up valuable nutrients that many of these wintering ducks feed on. In any given winter the causeway is lined with ducks, and there are huge numbers at the bridges where the nutrients cycle. We feel that this spot should be a resting place for migrating wintering ducks such as Scoters, Long-Tailed Ducks, Harlequin Ducks, Bufflehead, Shovelers, etc.

    Antelope Island is also the 5th most popular state park in the state of Utah, and more than 200,000 visitors cross the causeway each year. Shooting from such a roadside just doesn’t feel too safe to me.

    Yes, shooting rare ducks along the causeway can and does hurt tourism for Davis County, Utah. How much, one can only speculate.

    Antelope Island Causeway is a mere 7 mile stretch that connects the town of Syracuse with Antelope Island State Park. With all the negatives surrounding shooting on the Antelope Island Causeway, it seems like such a little area for hunters to give up. There seems to be a lot of bad press surrounding this issue, and it’s all over an area that isn’t all that popular with hunters.

    I feel as if I’ve got a little off topic here, and I feel as if I’ve avoided some of the questions posed. I don’t want to point any fingers or name any names; I fully support hunting (even of rare ducks) when it’s done in a responsible manner.

    I’d also like to add that there is no proof that any hunters killed the Harlequin Ducks, but there are some solid suspicions. If those ducks were harvested (legally), I think that the hunter probably knows the effect that his/her actions would have on the birding community. Shooting a Harlequin Duck in Utah would make one person really happy, and many other people really unhappy.

    I hope that the AIC buffer gets passed by the Division of Wildlife when it comes up for a vote this July/August. I feel that it is a compromise between both parties involved, and it will solve a lot of headaches in the future.

    I want to thank the ABA for bringing light to this discussion, and I hope that they get involved with more local issues in the future.

    Carl Ingwell

  • The solution to this problem is elegantly simple if not politically impossible to implement: hunting laws should state which species are LEGAL to hunt, not which species are ILLEGAL to hunt. That way, only species commonly found in a state may be legally taken.

  • Andy Boyce


    That was exactly my point, although you’ve said it much clearer, thanks.

    Andy Boyce

  • Great post. this article is very informative. I was hoping somebody with direct knowledge would mention the Falcated Duck situation.Thanks for sharing.

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