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The Comeback Kid

"An epicurean's delight," claimed the placards in the windows of bird markets in nineteenth-century America. And the price for this treat? In Ohio and Kentucky, John James Audubon could buy a pair for 25 cents. The items for sale were Wood Ducks, and people sold them from coast to coast. At the time their numbers were prodigious, but American hunters dramatically changed that situation within a hundred years.

One reason for the Wood Duck's rapid decline was the absence of hunting regulations at the time. With no restrictions on limit, season, or age, daily bags of up to 600 Wood Ducks were routine in some areas. Hunters who could afford (and lift) enormous "punt" guns could blast a hundred ducks from the sky with a single shot.

With the dawn of the twentieth century, hunters, ornithologists, and writers became aware of the Wood Duck's plight. It took the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1918 finally to put a halt to the Wood Duck slaughter in the United States. The language of the treaty was none too subtle concerning the Wood Duck: total protection from all hunting at all times.

For the next twenty-two years Wood Ducks remained out of legal range for any waterfowl hunters, and their recovery was nothing short of remarkable -- one of the great success stories in the annals of American conservation.

But hunting regulations alone did not save the Wood Duck. Credit a nationwide nest-box program started in the 1950s, too. Now more than 100,000 Wood Duck nest boxes exist in wetlands across the United States and southern Canada, a testament to all those who have championed the Wood Duck over the years: private groups, individuals, and municipal, state, and federal agencies.