Each year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stages the Federal Duck Stamp competition, where artists vie for a chance to be on the following year’s Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (read our recent feature about the contest here). Sales of the stamp raise approximately $25 million a year, and the funds support wetlands conservation and the National Wildlife Refuge System.

This year Audubon’s Connie Sanchez, director of the Important Bird Area program, served on the selection panel (judges are only allowed to serve once). The team selected a first prize, which will appear on the stamp, and two runners-up—and made headlines by inadvertently selecting three brothers.

We talked with her about the experience.

Audubon: What was the setup like?

Connie Sanchez: There were five judges. Three of us were from the conservation side and the others were from the art side. The first night, we were allowed to examine each of the 157 entries and take notes, but we weren’t allowed to talk to each other about the artwork. This year, the five candidate birds were the Mallard, Gadwall, Trumpeter Swan, Cinnamon Teal, and Blue-winged Teal. We had to judge if the birds were depicted accurately—if their plumage was correct, proportions correct, and in the correct habitat.

A: And how did judging go?
We sat on stage, and each judge was in his or her own cubby with blinders, so we couldn’t see how the other judges were scoring the art. The first round, we just decided if a painting was “In” or “Out.” In that way, we whittled the original 157 entries down to 40 or so. The next day, during the second round, we gave each candidate a numerical score. During the final round, we decided the overall winners.

A: So this was a multiday affair?

CS: Yes. We started on Thursday evening and the final judging, which happens in front of an audience, concluded on Saturday.

A: Did you notice any huge errors in any of the paintings?
Not really, although some of the proportions were off, especially when it came to head shape and size, and bill size.

A: Were you surprised that the humble Mallard took two of the three top slots? Compared to the Cinnamon Teal, the Mallard isn’t the fanciest of birds.
Yes! I was definitely surprised. I felt bad for the Gadwall—it has a subtle beauty, but it’s such an understated bird when compared to the other four.

A: And you didn’t know the identity of the artists while you were judging?
No. It was a complete surprise that we had awarded the top three slots to three brothers. Because I can only be a judge this one time, it was pretty cool to make history with the final three awardees.

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