There are decoy ducks, which are often referred to as duck decoys, and then there are duck decoys—structures that are still in use today that help trap and herd ducks.
Duck decoy history is pretty extensive in the United States and Canada, but even when you get to the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, there’s a little bit to throw around.
Together, we’re going to go over all the components of duck decoy structures and talk about why they were used so much a few years ago.
What Are Duck Decoys?
Duck decoys are structures with pipes or tubes that are used to herd ducks into one congregation.
They reside in one space, and once they’re intentionally scared, they will all run in a herd down one of these pipes or tubes (basically just openings) and try to take to the sky once they reach the end.
Duck decoys usually consist of wooden walls with no ceiling.
These five narrow passageways would connect to a food source or water supply in the middle.
The lack of a roof allowed ducks to see these food sources from the air.
It’s easy for them to land in these places, but it’s not exactly easy for them to just take off as they see fit.
The History of Duck Decoys
Duck decoy structures have played a bigger role overseas than here in the United States.
Back in colonial times, when the Native Americans showed us their version of duck decoys, we started carving them out of wood and making the traditional decoy as you know it today.
Many duck decoy structures were actually built in the United Kingdom, though very few of them are in operation today.
Since bird populations dwindled, they basically just shut them down but allow you to visit them for historical purposes.
In the Netherlands, almost all of their duck decoy structures are still in operation today.
Since there’s a plentiful game and not an overabundance of people hunting, they’re more relaxed about these types of laws.
Duck decoy structures were mostly used in the 18th and 19th centuries, and have undergone very little practical use in modern times.
Because game market hunting had become a problem for a while, many of these were shut down and hunters were discouraged from using them.
It’s believed that as a result, we still have plenty of game to hunt as we see fit today.
Some examples of the most popular duck decoy structures in the world include the inactive ones located on the island of Pellworm, Norddorf, and Amrun.
These can be visited if you want to get a closer look.
There isn’t much historical photography or videography regarding these islands though.
The modern history of duck decoy structures has dwindled down.
It’s not something that people think much about anymore, but we still see a few being shut down here and there in the United Kingdom and in Germany, where few remain in operation today.
How do Duck Decoys Work?
There is no foolproof, 100% surefire way to say “This is why they work” like it’s an open and shut deal.
However, we do know a few reasons why they work.
Let’s go over the model duck, and explain why that works so that you can understand how a traditional duck decoy structure works in parallel to it.
Ducks are birds of prey, which we all know.
But because of this, they constantly look for safe places to land.
They really only feel completely secure while they’re flying through the air.
Ducks, and other birds of prey, are hardwired to look for areas that post the least likely chance of being ambushed by a predator.
You might find ducks in thick marshes if they can get in the middle of a body of water and stay away from the edges, or in the middle of wide-open clearings and fields.
That’s because they can see everything around them, and the flock alerts one another if there is any danger.
That’s where decoys come in.
Ducks don’t get close and go, “Wait a minute, I’ve been bamboozled—that false heathen is crafted out of polycarbonate, ABS plastic and slathered in paint.”
They’re birds. They can easily be lured into a false sense of security with a large flock.
This is why you often see people making 25-50 bird decoys at once.
A small roundup of about six-or-so ducks isn’t going to really do the trick.
Duck decoy structures operate on an entirely different principle.
They’re not herding ducks into a false sense of security; they’re giving them something to explore, in a sense.
Many duck decoy designs had five pipes or areas that ducks could start to walk into.
These would all lead to either a food source or a small body of water in the center of this walled-in structure, usually comprised of wooden boards.
The trick here is that nearly all of these duck decoys are set up with no roofs or ceilings, which is totally intentional.
A duck can’t just fly straight up whenever it wants to, so it moves forward to begin picking up momentum.
There isn’t enough space on the inside of the decoy to take off and fly.
They start running back down one of the pipes.
Hunters would send their dogs in through here to herd the ducks into one area.
They wouldn’t be able to fly until they reached the end of one of the pipes, so a hunter would stand nearby at the exit, and fire when the ducks left and took to the sky.
These weren’t the only types of duck decoys.
While we believe there to be less than 1,000 duck decoy structures globally, some of them were made on either side of a river to herd ducks underneath a bridge or down a narrow canal where the walled sides start to close in.
This herds them together, so when the hunter goes to shoot, they’re all crowded and taking off from one area.
You’re bound to hit one or two of them with your shot.
Some of these riverside decoys, which are basically just wooden walls on either side with peepholes in the side, will be used by hunters to scare the duck into flight.
You can toss a rock into the water and spook them, startling them so that you can shoot one down before they take full flight.
Can You Make Your Own Duck Decoy in Your Backyard?
You absolutely can, but you have to understand that most duck decoys are going to be very difficult to make.
At least, the first time.
You’re going to need plenty of solid lumber, whittling tools, carving tools, and plenty of high-end paint to really get the color patterns down.
Duck decoys will get easier to make over time.
You’re going to need plenty of workable space and a lot of time.
Thanks to the way that duck decoys are manufactured these days, most hunters don’t have the need to make their own in the backyard.
However, for some of us, it’s not about the efficiency of hunting—it’s about making an icon to replicate what we love doing, and that’s duck hunting.
If you want to get into whittling, which will lead to carving, which will lead to making your own decoys, here are a few videos for you to check out.
Making your own decoys is time-consuming, but if you really love duck hunting the way that I do, it’s going to be beyond worth it.
Where Can You Visit Working Duck Decoys?
Some working decoys still exist in England, but there are only a few.
Surprisingly, the Netherlands has over one-hundred duck decoys that are still in operation to this very day.
Some of them date back as far as the 13th century, though we have no proof of exactly what they were used for.
In Germany, duck decoys have been around for over a hundred years, though most of them are not in use today.
The More You Know, the Better You’ll be
Duck decoy history seems to have transitioned when duck decoy structures were no longer used.
Now if you say duck decoy, the only thing that comes to mind is a decoy duck bobbing in the water.
While you might not use a structured duck decoy today, especially since modern decoy ducks are so much easier to use and more realistic than ever before, it’s still important to know where duck hunting came from.
Who knows—you might even be the one to develop a new method of herding ducks into the open.