Station: [5] Duck Decoys

F: Föhr was a barren island, and for centuries, it was barely able to feed its population. So any extra source of food was welcome.

M: Fowling – in other words, catching wild birds – proved to be a rich source of food. That’s because the tidal mudflats were regularly visited by vast flocks of migratory birds, who stopped off there to rest. A particularly effective method was using a decoy, locally called a “Vogelkoje” or “bird bunk”, to catch ducks. There are six of these elaborately laid out duck decoys on the island. There’s a model of one in the large showcase at the back, so you can see what they look like.

F: The Föhr islanders copied the principle and the design of the duck decoys from the Dutch: First you dig out an artificial pond and protect it by planting a copse. Incidentally, in the 18th century, the island had no trees at all, and this was the first time trees had been planted for a specific purpose.

On the pond, those operating the decoy kept tame sitting ducks, whose task was to attract the wild ducks as they flew past. The ducks were fed in the twisting channels, called "pipes". When the sitting ducks swam into such a pipe, the wild ducks followed. Then the “decoy man” appeared from behind the reed barriers along the sides. The timid wild ducks panicked and fled, straight into the traps and boxes at the end of the pipes. There, they could easily be picked up and killed using a special technique.

M: Common teals, the smallest duck species, arrived in huge flocks to rest on Föhr. In an average year, some 15,000 ducks could be trapped in a single duck decoy. After 1885, there was even a small duck canning factory in Wyk, where the delicious common teals were dressed, cooked, preserved in tins and exported as a delicacy as far afield as New York.
Today, common teals are a protected species, and the duck decoys on Föhr only operate on a small scale and catch a few mallards, since the population of that species is not yet under threat.

Fotos: © Dr.-Carl-Häberlin-Friesen-Museum