The landscape is a trap : Duck decoys as multispecies atmospheres of deception and betrayal

van Heijgen, Eugenie; Driessen, Clemens; Turnhout, Esther


Duck decoys are trapping devices designed to catch ducks. From the fourteenth century onwards, duck decoys emerged in riverine lowlands in northwestern Europe. Their operation is based on a rigorously maintained physical structure with a woodland that encloses a water body with protruding extensions called pipes, which end in nets and are surrounded by reed screens. Catching ducks in these places requires a complex interplay between different groups of ducks, a dog, and a human decoyman who together are enmeshed in what becomes a deeply deceptive landscape. This paper explores duck decoys in the Netherlands as relational, situated and co-designed multispecies atmospheres. Through ethnographic descriptions of field visits, interviews and by drawing on historical accounts, we trace how inter- and intraspecies relations and behaviours are interpreted in terms of deception, betrayal, trust and curiosity. The varying interpretations of behaviours and the more-than-human knowledges at play reflect the essentially elusive character of the duck decoy. Especially when facing the environmental challenges of the Anthropocene, duck decoys and the ambiguous relations that were until recently maintained in them, encourage us to consider the historical trapping and hunting landscapes as places made by multispecies atmospheres. Even though these atmospheres and the intimate collectives of human and more-than-human lives have become increasingly fragile, their afterlives resonate through the changing character of the riverine landscape and its various waterfowl, as well as practices of knowing and conserving biodiversity.