This past Saturday, I had the honor of acting as one of five judges at the John Heinz Refuge for their annual Junior Duck Stamp Competition. At 7:30 on a cold March morning, I gathered with four other judges to assess drawings and conservation messages from students aged 5-18. We were greeted with coffee, Federal Donuts, and a feeling of excitement as an annual tradition was underway. Some of the other judges had been coming back every year to do the contest, for up to 7 years. My group was made up of a biologist, a park ranger, and two wildlife aficionados and bird watching experts. As a former biology major and lover of nature myself, I felt right at home.
The first half of the judging was spent choosing between “conservation messages” that the students had. They ranged from “Duck, duck goose,” to “Protect the wetlands, it’s all the ducks have!” to “Don’t be a schmuck, save the ducks!” The competition was close, but we found some beautifully inspiring messages that reflected a clear understanding of conservation. We then moved on to the drawings and paintings done by students from every grade.
There was a huge range of mediums, styles, and approaches to the task. Some kids used paint, others used crayon, while some used marker, and some used delicate and beautiful pastels. Some of the ducks looked like cartoons – I could almost see a speech bubble with “Quack!” inside! Others were like regal portraits, beautifully detailed and painstakingly shaded and colored. Each student was assigned to a specific species of duck (or swan) – the artwork was judged for its visual appeal, character, originality, and (especially with many of the judges as experts) accuracy in the depiction of the species of bird itself.
The pictures made us laugh, and made us gasp in amazement. It was incredible to see what hundreds of kids could make, and the amazing diversity of design, style, and even narrative behind their artwork. I had a fantastic time, and hope to join them again in the future!