Wood Duck Society

History of the Wood Duck Society

By Art Hawkins and Lloyd Knudson
[Reprinted from December 1999 Newsgram]

It all started in April, 1984, when several friends met around the Hawkins’ breakfast table in Lino Lakes MN, to share experiences concerning their box-nesting wood ducks.

This April ritual was repeated the next four years, but by 1989, the group had grown too large for the breakfast table and moved to a meeting room at Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area. Soon the group decided the time had come to share their information through a newsletter called the Wood Duck Newsgram.

The first issue of the new mimeographed publication dated 1989, was dedicated to Frederic Leopold who died earlier that year. Leopold, a business man, had become a nationally recognized authority on nesting wood ducks through his studies of more than 500 successful nests in boxes placed in trees in his back yard at Burlington, Iowa. The Leopold Desk Company motto was “Built on Honor to Endure,” a character which Frederic applied to all of his activities, including his wood duck studies. The first newsgram issue also contained an article by Frank Bellrose, another nationally recognized authority on Wood Ducks.

David Grice, Frederic Leopold and Frank C. Bellrose were honored at an international symposium in St. Louis, Missouri, by the declaration “The North American Wood Duck Symposium is dedicated to three individuals who symbolize efforts to conserve and manage the Wood Duck [Aix sponsa]. These three men have dedicated significant portions of their lives to increasing our understanding and appreciation for this North American species”.

Both Leopold and Bellrose gave strong support to the budding Wood Duck Society. In fact, the article by Bellrose in the first Newgram was titled “Hurray for the Wood Duck Newsgram”. Since then, the book “Ecology and Management of the Wood Duck” by Bellrose and co-author Dan Holmes, published in 1994, has become the classic work on this species.

By 1992, our membership had increased to 150 and an editorial committee was formed. The Newsgram took on a new format and the number of issues per year increased to three. The name Wood duck Society was adopted by members present at the 1994 annual meeting. The Society now has over 600 members.

The Society is currently operated by unpaid volunteers through a Board of Directors. Annual membership dues of $10 cover publication of the Newsgram and other expenses associated with dissemination of information as well as special project activities. Experts in wood duck research and management, graduates engaged in wood duck studies, Society members, and other wood duck enthusiasts are invited to submit articles for the Newsgram and to share their ideas and experiences at the annual meetings.

As a Society, we are concerned about the welfare of the wood duck through its range from coast to coast and from Canada to Mexico. Wood duck habits and habitats and how these birds are perceived by people vary considerably within this extensive range. The Society hopes to combine information and knowledge to help educate all parties concerned.

If members in other parts of the range believe there is a need for a special section in the Newsgram, such a proposal would be welcomed. Since its inception, the Newsgram has been graced by the drawings of Amy Donlin. The Editorial Committee always appreciates receiving other pertinent artwork, photographs, and suggestions for improving the Newsgram.

Art Hawkins


By Stephen M Straka

In 2005, Art Hawkins graciously spent the time to send me his autobiography at my request. I have carefully put his notes in chronological order with only minor edits. Thank you Art.

Art Hawkins was born in Batavia, NY on June 15th, 1913. Art was schooled there and had a newspaper route as a young boy. He spent his spare time hunting, fishing, trapping and camping.

In 1931, Art attended Cornell University, majoring in forestry and field biology. During his spare time while at Cornell, Art worked on the NY State Ruffed grouse study and spent one summer on a biological survey of the Tionesta Forest in Pennsylvania. In 1934, after graduation, he worked for the NY Conservation Department on a stream survey of the Mohawk-Hudson watershed. Art later started grad school in fisheries at Cornell, but left after the first term when offered an assistantship at the University of Wisconsin, under Aldo Leopold.

By 1937, Art obtained his MS degree under Professor Leopold with studies of several game birds, while managing the Faville Grove Experimental Wildlife area, where Leopold students gained farm and wildlife experience.

From 1938-41, Art joined the Illinois Natural History Survey [ INHS ] as a leader of a new section on wildlife experimental areas with assistant, Frank Bellrose. His section soon was modified to a study of ducks and their food habits on the Illinois River Valley. This is where Art Hawkins became seriously involved with wood ducks. Art and Frank Bellrose were perhaps the first individuals to make a major study of fall migration and the hunter harvest on a large scale. The research area was the Illinois River and Mississippi River, where it borders Illinois.

Art entered the military in 1941. His job in the military, classified in veterinary service, was to help develop a milk-shed for Amarillo Field and four other Air Corps bases. In doing so, Art dealt with ranchers and farmers in five states at their ranches and farms. He kept notes on waterfowl and other birds, as he traveled. This permitted him to publish a report on the birds of west Texas, a report on waterfowl that was sent to the US Fish and Wildlife Service and various other records departments. The reports are now housed at Texas Tech University at Lubbock, Texas.

In 1945, after being discharged from the service, Art returned to the Illinois Natural History Survey. In May of 1946, Art received a better offer from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and moved to Madison, Wisconsin to share an office with Professor Leopold. Almost immediately, he left for Manitoba, Canada with his family, where they were based at the Delta Waterfowl Research Station. For eight summers in a row, they spent April-September in Canada, where he headed the waterfowl work in Manitoba, including surveys, bandings, etc.

Arts’ job changed again in 1954 from ‘Mississippi Flyway Biologist’, to Asst. Supervisor of Game Management in Region 3 based in Minneapolis, MN. However, the new job still took him to Canada for surveys and banding. In 1956, another job change to ‘Mississippi Flyway Representative’ for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, a position created when the ‘Flyway Councils’ evolved. In this job, Art worked closely with the state waterfowl biologists in the fourteen states of the flyway and participated on all flyway council and technical section meetings, including the regulations-settings process in Washington DC.

In 1972, Art officially retired, but only on a part-time basis [39hrs/wk instead of 40 hrs/wk] until the book “Flyways”, which he helped edit, was complete. During this semi- retirement period, he was given many special assignments including a tie-in with Texas A&M to help supervise graduate students in their Redhead duck studies in Texas, Montana and Manitoba. He also was involved in an oil spill which endangered ducks wintering on the Laguna Madre and various other assignments in Canada.

In Art’s full retirement, he kept up to date on various conservation issues, especially as related to migratory birds. Beyond official duties, dating back to the first Earth Day, in 1970, he helped organize a church program called EPIC [Environmental Programs in Churches] which tried to enlarge the mission of churches into Earth Day type actions. It was actually quite successful, but as the Earth Day fire dimmed, so did EPIC.

In the last four years [2001-2004] the MN DNR had employed Art part-time, to monitor a failing heron/egret colony on Peltier Lake in MN. He was also involved in an ‘ad-hoc’ group called CDHP, [Concerned Duck Hunters Panel] which is working hard to get more conservative hunting regulations. Last, but not least, Art Hawkins is highly responsible for the Wood Duck Society’s existence today and from day-one, has been one of the most respected Directors on the board. His charisma, strength and knowledge will always be an inspiration to everyone who knew him.

The last paragraph in Art’s autobiography represents a testimony to his vision and respect for others:

“My experience with wood ducks in particular, after nearly 50 years of having boxes on our place, turns up something new almost annually, greatly augmented by my association with other wood duckers. That’s why the Newsgram [Wood Duck Newsgram] and more recently the internet, are so important. It opens up a whole new vista. While traveling around the country while working for the Service [USFWS] I had the opportunity to visit quite a few wood duck projects and of course, learned from that experience. I owe much of what I’ve learned about woodies to Frank Bellrose, of course, and also Frederic Leopold and Ray Cunningham, both fountains of information.”

Art Hawkins

Other website links to Art Hawkins

An article by Art

An education project of Art's