Duck decoy (structure)

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This article is about the device for catching wildfowl. For the carved wildfowl models used for a similar purpose, see Duck decoy (model).
Diagram of the plan of a 5-pipe duck decoy

A duck decoy is a device to capture wild ducks or other species of waterfowl. Formerly the birds were slaughtered and used for food. More recently they have also been used for ornithological research.


The word decoy is derived from the Dutch word eendenkooi, which means "duck-cage";[1] Chambers Dictionary suggests Dutch de kooi = "the cage".


As finally developed the decoy consisted of a pool of water leading from which are from one to eight curving, tapering ditches. Over each ditch is series of hoops, initially made from wood, later from iron, which diminish in size as the ditch tapers. The hoops are covered in netting. The combination of ditch and net-covered hoop is known as a pipe. On the outside curve of the pipe, for two-thirds of its length, are overlapping screens.[2]


There are two methods of working a duck decoy, dogging or feeding.


Use of dogs[edit]

Ducks are naturally curious and when they see a predator, such as a fox, they will keep it at a distance, but tend to follow it. The decoy man uses a dog, preferably a breed similar in appearance to a fox, to lure the ducks along the pipes. For this purpose in the sixteenth century in the Netherlands the kooikerhondje breed was developed. The dog appears between a gap in the screens and the ducks approach. It then appears at the next gap further along the pipe, and so on until the ducks are trapped at the end of the pipe.[3]


The decoyman walks behind the screens, throwing grain or other food over them while keeping out of sight. The ducks follow, eating the food, and are caught at the end of the pipe.[4]



In the mid-1880s there were 41 decoys still in operation in England, and 145 which were no longer in use.[5] Today there are only a few remaining duck decoys in England. These include Hale Duck Decoy in Cheshire, administered by Halton Borough Council,[6] Boarstall Duck Decoy near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, owned and administered by the National Trust,[7] and a decoy in Abbotsbury Swannery, Dorset.[8]

Some are used to trap ducks for non-harmful study, such as ringing them.[citation needed]

Evidence of former duck decoys can be found. At Swanpool near Lincoln, cropmarks revealed in aerial photographs show the outlines of a decoy.[9] In Somerset, west of Nyland Hill there is evidence of a pond with three pipes,[10] and in Westbury there is a decoy with possibly six pipes.[11]


A decoy in action; Dutch footage from 1974

There are about 111 decoys still in operation in the Netherlands,[12] the oldest one dating from the 13th century.[13] The number of ducks still caught for consumption is small. Larger numbers of ducks are hunted by shooting. The decoys are mostly used for study purposes including ringing, but also for studying the avian flu.[14]

Denmark and Germany[edit]

On the North Frisian Islands, decoys originally served as a pastime for sea captains and ships' officers during wintertime. Later the ponds were also used to trap great numbers of wild ducks for commercial purposes. In one decoy on Föhr island, more than 3,000,000 ducks have been caught since its installation in 1735, and from 1885 to 1931 a factory for canned duck meat was active in Wyk auf Föhr. The preserved meat was exported worldwide. Today there are six inactive decoys on Föhr.[15] Another decoy is located near Norddorf on Amrum island.[16] The decoy on Pellworm island was active until 1946. Today it is a public park and has been converted into an orchard.[17]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Payne-Gallwey 1886, p. 3.
  2. ^ Payne-Gallwey 1886, pp. 18–20.
  3. ^ Payne-Gallwey 1886, pp. 23–26.
  4. ^ Payne-Gallwey 1886, pp. 27–29.
  5. ^ Payne-Gallwey 1886, pp. 60–187.
  6. ^ Hale Duck Decoy, Halton Borough Council, retrieved 2008-10-04 
  7. ^ Boarstall Duck Decoy, National Trust, retrieved 2008-10-04 
  8. ^ Chesil & Fleet A to Z, Chickerell BioAcoustics, retrieved 2008-10-06 
  9. ^ Duck Decoy at Swanpool, English Heritage, retrieved 2008-10-04 
  10. ^ Duck decoy, W of Nyland Hill, Nyland, Somerset County Council, retrieved 2008-10-04 
  11. ^ Duck decoy, E of Barrow Wood Lane, Westbury, Somerset County Council, retrieved 2008-10-04 
  12. ^ "Eendenkooien in Nederland" [Decoys in the Netherlands] (in Dutch). De Kooikersvereniging. Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Wetenschappelijk onderzoek" [Scientific studies] (in Dutch). De Kooikersvereniging. Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  15. ^ Faltings, Jan I. (2011), Föhrer Grönlandfahrt im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert (in German), Amrum: Verlag Jens Quedens, pp. 36–37, ISBN 978-3-924422-95-0 
  16. ^ "Norddorf: Regionale Ziele". Marco Polo (in German). MairDumont. Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  17. ^ "Die Vogelkoje - ein Ort der Stille" [The duck decoy – a place of tranquility]. (in German). Pellworm municipality. Retrieved 31 December 2013.