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Conservation aids Mallards in navigating modern flyway
On a cold and damp winter morning, a stand of flooded timber in southern Arkansas is prime real estate. Not just for the rice farmers or timber barons of the region, but for the throngs of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), other species of waterfowl and hunters alike, all brought together by a mass migration, ideal habitat and a love for one of North America's most recognized ducks. Here, mallard hens and drakes take to an open pool of water to feed in the water as the sun strains to cast shadows through the low-hanging clouds while the far-off sounds of their calls send excitement through eager hunters and well-trained Labrador gun dogs alike. This pairing of hunter and hunted, now as imminent as the ice-cold, shin-deep water that surrounds duck blinds nationwide, has persevered for one more year.
Not limited to just the pools and puddles of Arkansas, this scene plays out across the United States on a daily basis during the winter migration. But it wasn't always this way. As the nation expanded from sea to sea, waterfowl - namely mallards and other ducks - bore the brunt of America's prosperity. Habitat destruction, the draining of wetlands and unregulated hunting practices all played a role in the decrease of mallard numbers across the country.
By conserving vital breeding, migration and wintering habitat through things such as the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Clean Water Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the reduction in the number of wetlands drained, the mallard has become the country's most common duck, with 9.5 million breeding mallards by the year 2000. Though population numbers fluctuate from year to year, most areas are still seeing population increases of 100 percent above their long-term averages. One of the breeds of ducks that is easily suited to urban living, conservation groups - aided by passionate sportsmen and women - are securing mallard habitat through the four major flyways across North America. As a result of these efforts, more breeding mallards are able to raise healthy broods, migrate and winter, raising the total number of these iconic creatures across the nation.
Few North American game birds enjoy the notoriety of the mallard. From urban parks to the most remote river bends, these ducks - especially the green-headed males - are perhaps the most recognizable of all the species. Their images have graced multiple Federal Duck Stamps and their winged migration gives yearly signals of an oncoming winter to all who look skyward. In addition, the mallard is the most prolific breeder in the waterfowl world, a fact that aids conservationists and sportsmen and wildlife watchers who delight in the duck's beauty.
Though conservation is a year-round effort, on the fourth Saturday of every September, millions of Americans celebrate the success of the mallard and many other species as part of National Hunting and Fishing Day activities that will be going on nationwide. National Hunting and Fishing Day began after a presidential proclamation in 1972 that sets aside the fourth Saturday of each September for the event. Since then, national, regional, state and local organizations have staged thousands of open house hunting- and fishing-related events everywhere from shooting ranges to suburban frog ponds, providing millions of Americans with a chance to experience, understand and appreciate traditional outdoor sports.
The careful waterfowl conservation efforts of the past have given millions of people the thrill of hearing the mallard call to a mate in the distance, to view it in its natural habitat and to restore its population to huntable populations. Conservation groups, sportsmen and women and wildlife watchers alike are all stakeholders in the future of the mallard and all waterfowl, to ensure that these species take to the skies and swims in our ponds and marshes long enough for future generations to see.
National Hunting and Fishing Day, formalized by Congress in 1971, was created by the National Shooting Sports Foundation to celebrate the conservation successes of hunters and anglers. National Hunting and Fishing Day is observed on the fourth Saturday of every September.

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