Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum

10th June 2001

[Wildfowl Museum
Brochure] Saren had come visiting from Australia, and we went to the beach on Saturday morning for a look-see. While walking along the boardwalk, we found the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum and went inside. This was a strange place. It was an old brick building, called the de Witt cottage, and one of the few of that age to have survived so long on the beach. Probably because of the brick construction. It should properly have been called Atlantic Wildfowl Shooting Decoy Heritage Museum. The main exhibits were the decoys.

We came in the back entrance, the one looking onto the beach. There was an old carver holding reign, telling the staff all sorts of tales. He comes through regularly, leaving decoys and chatting. He was a lively old guy, very happy, very cheeky. The staff were very cheerful and helpful people.

The Indians originally discovered that wildfowl will come down to killing range if it looks as if there are other wildfowl already down at ground level, so they would make little models of the birds and float them around. The white settlers who followed them continued the practice, but made it into an art form.

Decoy making ran in the families. The Cobb family made a large range of decoys, and my guide was happy to point out some original Cobb decoys. "This one's our prize piece and it's worth $80,000, and these ones are only worth $25,000, and these ones are just worth $15,000." Okay, they are very realistic wooden carvings of ducks, but $80,000? Collectors will collect anything, eh?

So we looked around the little house and saw all the decoys and looked at some modern bird carvings that were wonderful. There were carvings of a huge range of ducks, as well as geese and pelicans and other waterbirds and gamebirds.

In one of the rooms was a guy who was carving birds. I had a chat with him and he showed me where he got his patterns from and what his tools did and why he did it, and what birds he liked and didn't. While chatting, he was carving a mockingbird and it took shape from a block of wood to be a completely recognisable bird. He was talented. He had a sample of his birds on display, and there was a cardinal and a hummingbird and few others I didn't recognise. He's a volunteer. Comes to the Museum once a week and sits down and carves and talks to the tourists. He went to Australia last year and spent a lot of time looking at the birds. He missed seeing a cassowary, but he got to see a lot of the well known birds.

I wandered back to the entrance and looked over the photos showing proud hunters displaying their hundreds of dead birds. Some of the hunters were market hunters, and they shot hundreds of birds to sell to the hotels to serve for dinner. Others were just trophy hunters. So many dead birds.

[The de Witt cottage,
housing the Museum]

All in all, it was a great experience. I enjoyed looking at the modern carvings of the birds, and the model of the decoy making factory. I enjoyed talking to the people there.

[The back entrance,
looking onto the beach]

Here's a few of the decoys in the collection. The early ones are fairly primitive and do the job of luring the birds down. The later decoys were beautifully carved and painted and I doubt if they ever touched water.

[Some of the decoys]