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Economic Importance Of Ducks

Wild ducks have long been hunted for food, and more recently for sport. In recent decades, hunters kill about 10-20 million ducks each year in North America, shooting about 20% in Canada, and the rest in the United States. Duck hunting has a very large economic impact, because of the money hunters spend on travel, license fees, private hunting fees, and on firearms, ammunition, and other paraphernalia.

Prior to the regulation of the hunting of ducks and other game animals, especially before the 1920s, the killing of ducks was essentially uncontrolled. In areas where ducks were abundant, there were even commercial hunts to supply ducks to urban markets. The excessive A lone mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) amid a group of black ducks in Castalia, Ohio. Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.

hunting during these times caused tremendous decreases in the populations of ducks and other waterfowl, as well as in other species of edible birds and mammals. Consequently, governments in the United States and Canada began to control excessive hunting, to protect breeding habitat, and to provide a network of habitat refuges to provide for the needs of waterfowl during migration and wintering. These actions have allowed subsequent increases in the populations of most species of waterfowl, although the numbers of some species still remain much smaller than they used to be.

A relatively minor but interesting use of ducks concerns the harvesting of the down of wild common eiders. The female of this species plucks down from her breast for use in lining the nest, and this highly insulating material has long been collected in northern countries, and used to produce eiderdown quilts and clothing.

Several species of ducks have been domesticated, and in some areas they are an important agricultural commodity. The common domestic duck is derived from the mallard, which was domesticated about 2,000 years ago in China. Farm mallards are usually white, and are sometimes called Peking duck. The common domestic muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) was domesticated by aboriginal South Americans prior to the European colonization of the Americas.

Ducks are being increasingly used in a nonconsumptive fashion. For example, bird watchers often go to great efforts to see ducks and other birds, trying to view as many species as possible, especially in natural habitats. Like hunters, birders spend a great deal of money while engaging in their sport, to travel, to purchase binoculars and books, and to belong to birding, natural-history, and conservation organizations.

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