Alum’s love for waterfowl and conservation takes flight in Flyways Waterfowl Museum

June 30, 2016

Upon retiring, people often spend their time playing golf, reading books or traveling the world. Not so for Nichol and Craig Swenson. They opened a museum dedicated to North American ducks, geese and swans, and habitat conservation.   

The Swensons began work on the nonprofit Flyways Waterfowl Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, in 2012.

Craig and Nichol Swenson
Craig and Nichol Swenson. Nichol earned a master’s
degree in land resources from the institute in 1985.

“I always wanted to give back to the state of Wisconsin, and I realized that I had the ability to do this,” says Nichol, who earned a master’s degree in land resources from the Nelson Institute in 1985.

The museum, open from spring through fall and by appointment in the off-season, contains three major sections: waterfowl science, waterfowl art, and a history of conservation and environmental regulations in North America. 

Guests can view more than 80 North American migratory ducks, geese and swans, many in dioramas accompanied by audio clips with information about the species’ habitat and management. The museum’s newest diorama, Amazing Sea Ducks, contains 12 of the 15 species of sea birds and accompanying videos.

“This allows visitors to see the beauty of the wild birds up close and enables them to better understand what to look for while birdwatching or hunting,” says Swenson.  

Summer hours for the Flyways
Waterfowl Museum, located in
Baraboo, are 10 a.m.-5 p.m.,
Monday and Thursday-Saturday,
as well as 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on
Sunday. The museum is also open
on weekends in the spring and fall,
and by appointment in the winter.
Full hours of admission and ticket
information can be found on
the museum’s website.

Visitors can also listen to the birds’ calls, learn about waterfowl migration patterns, and explore habitat management topics. The art collection includes antique and collectable decoys and duck calls, as well as prints of federal and state duck stamps, the licenses required for hunting waterfowl since 1934.

“I try to tell people how important it is to buy a duck stamp,” Swenson says. Today, 98 cents of every dollar generated from duck stamp sales goes toward wetland habitat protection through the National Wildlife Refuge System, making the stamps a large player in habitat conservation.

“The problem is that there are fewer people hunting,” says Swenson, “which means fewer people purchasing the duck stamps. So conservation agencies and birding organizations are trying to get the word out about the importance of the stamps.”

The museum also includes a small Duck Blind theater and a laser hunting arcade to demonstrate the skill and hand-eye coordination required in hunting.

Since opening four years ago, hundreds of people from across the country have visited the museum. In addition, the museum’s educational facility hosts educational symposiums for teachers and offers personalized tours for student, senior and civic groups. Funds are occasionally available to defray class trip expenses, so Swenson encourages teachers to contact her to discuss opportunities for student visits. 

2016-17 Junior Duck Stamp
The 2016-17 Junior Duck Stamp, featuring a pair of
Ross's geese. Flyways Waterfowl Museum displays
a variety of federal and state duck stamp prints.

“We’ve been fortunate to receive some grant monies that we use to bring in art classes, where we teach about the Junior Duck Stamp Contest, and agricultural and natural resources classes, where we encourage students to continue their studies in waterfowl and habitat conservation,” she explains.

From Sept. 24-Oct. 2, the museum will host a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Federal and Junior Duck Stamp art exhibit, showcasing renowned wildlife artists’ entries for the federal contest and each state's first place winners in the junior contest. And on Saturdays in October, guests can enjoy a Coffee, Cookies and Conservation Conversations series (details can be found on the museum’s Facebook page).

“I tell people that this museum is the real ‘duck dynasty,’” Swenson says. “It’s a perfect blend of topics. People who are interested in art can appreciate it from that end, people that are sportsmen or birdwatchers can appreciate the science, and the museum is able to put that all together.”

“I’ve got pages and pages of people writing in our guestbook about how much they love the museum,” she adds.