Duck decoys are tools used in the trapping and hunting of ducks. In the original sense, a duck decoy was a wickerwork tunnel positioned over a pond or stream, and used to trap a large number of ducks. In the modern sense, decoys are usually fake ducks which are floated on bodies of water to encourage real ducks to land. These decoys are also used in the training of hunting dogs.
The original duck decoy was a rather clever device. The hunter positioned what was essentially a large basket over a body of water, and then used a well trained hunting dog to herd ducks into the decoy. Once inside, the ducks were trapped, and the hunter could take the ducks to market and sell them. This type of decoy is still used by some naturalists to trap live birds for the purpose of tagging and study.
The cage-like basket also explains the origins of the word “decoy.” In Dutch, de kooi means “the cage,” and English users probably picked up the term as well as the technique from Dutch hunters. Several examples of historical decoys can be found around Europe; some are considered national heritage sites and they are part of larger parks and reserve areas. In some instances, reserves offer live demonstrations of decoys for visitors who are interested in seeing them in use.
However, when the term “duck decoy” is used today, most people think of model ducks, rather than cages. Duck decoys range in design from being very crude representations of ducks to elaborate mimics which may be designed to move or swim around, thus lulling ducks into a sense of security. When ducks see the decoy, they decide that the body of water is safe, and they land on it, thus exposing themselves to hunters who can shoot, snare, or trap them.
Hunting dogs are also trained with the use of decoys. Hunters who pursue waterfowl need dogs to retrieve the birds they shoot without damaging them. Decoys are used to teach dogs to sit patiently until they are needed, and they are also used to show dogs how to carefully pick up a bird and bring it back to the person who shot it.
Many hunting suppliers sell decoys, and it is also possible to make one by hand, if one has crafting skills. Some people also collect antique and historical duck decoys as interesting pieces of household sculpture, especially in homes which are decorated with a rustic or country theme.