Driving Tours: Waterfowl, Decoys and the Waterfowling Tradition
Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network

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Waterfowling in the Bay RegionWith its vast expanses of shallow waters and wetlands, the Chesapeake Bay is a waterfowl magnet. It’s situated along the Atlantic flyway, so migrating birds often stop or winter here en route from their northern summer breeding grounds.

Once, there were millions. They could change the landscape when they lifted off from a creek or field, turning the sky black as their beating wings thundered.

Today, though, the Bay sees far fewer waterfowl. Declining quantities and types of underwater grasses, overhunting, more people and a shrinking habitat have cut their overall numbers to about one million. Within each species, numbers change all the time. The Canada goose population, for instance, has been on the rise. But diving ducks such as scaup and ruddy ducks recently have suffered alarming drops.

The diversity of species and sheer numbers in the past created a tradition of waterfowl hunting that bordered on a passion and put food on many tables. This sport still thrives, though on a much smaller scale. Even as early as the mid-1800s, conservationists and state regulators worried about the wholesale slaughter of waterfowl. So they began to restrict what methods hunters could use and limited their take, close regulation that continues today.

The waterfowling tradition also produced one of the Bay’s loveliest folk art forms—decoy carving. Hunters made the decoys to float nearby, drawing the real birds within shooting range. Eventually, the carving itself became art, and what were humble working decoys are now soughtafter collectibles worth thousands of dollars.

Waterfowl continue to be an integral part of the Chesapeake. The beat of a tundra swan’s wings on a cold winter morning, or the call of Canada geese in the fall, remain indelible Bay experiences.

Waterfowling on the Lower Eastern Shore
This tour lets visitors examine the art and evolution of decoy carving based in the waterfowling tradition, then travel to a remote refuge to mingle with the birds.

Northern Bay Waterfowling
This tour lets visitors learn how waterfowling and decoy carving evolved on the northern Chesapeake, then visit the body of water that supported those linked traditions.

Waterfowl on the Middle Bay
This tour takes visitors to two wildlife refuges where tens of thousands of geese, ducks and swans spend the winter or visit while migrating.

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