June’s Bird of the Month

While standing on extremely long, thin, pink legs and sporting an elongated delicate-looking bill, this month’s bird appears to be the epitome of elegance and refinement.
This month’s Bird of the Month is the aptly-named Black-necked Stilt.

“Delicate”… “Elegant”… “Refined”…that is, while they’re undisturbed. But, when disturbed near their feeding or nesting ground, other words come to mind to describe the Black-necked Stilt. “Excitable”… “Noisy”… “Confrontational”…are more descriptive of this bird when it perceives a threat of some type. Intruders (including birdwatchers) are likely to be “dive-bombed” and scolded persistently while in the Black-necked Stilt’s territory. It feigns attack with its loud, sharp and grating…”yek-yek-yek-yek”…alarm while circling overhead!
There aren’t many Black-necked Stilts in Indiana, but from what I’ve read and observed, they seem to be making inroads in the Hoosier State. I’ve seen a few of them while visiting Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area down near Linton, Indiana and I’ve noticed that, on IN-BIRD, Black-necked Stilts have been regularly reported at this great FWA. And even though considered rare here in Indiana, these distinctive birds are easily identifiable when seen, with their sharp and contrasting black and white color pattern.
While flying, the legs of the Black-necked Stilt trail “far” behind, because of the extreme length of their legs. As a matter-of-fact, stilts have the second-longest leg length in proportion to their body size than any other bird, exceeded only by flamingos.
WHAT A WONDERFUL BIRD!

Douglas “Birdman” Gray has been birding almost all of his life. He grew up on a family farm near Clarksville, Tennessee, where they grew crops ranging from apricots to wheat, and most things in between. They also raised chickens, guineas, pigs, horses, and a cow named…….Apples. Doug’s grandfather identified the birds they would see daily on the farm.
Doug now resides in Indianapolis and works in Parenteral Engineering with Eli Lilly and Company. Most of his current birding takes place in Indiana, with a concentration on Central Indiana, where he leads bird walks for “Backyard Birds”. Doug can be reached at 317-255-7333.

February’s Bird of the Month

By Douglas “Birdman” Gray, Outdoor Afro Contributor
Many, when they take a look at this month’s bird will say, “Hey, I know what kind of bird that is.”
“It’s a duck…and it’s a Mallard at that!” You’d be right with it being a duck, but it’s not actually a Mallard. This month’s featured bird is the American Black Duck.

I have to admit that a few years back while studying this duck on paper…before I actually saw one…I was thinking, “Hey, I’m going to have a problem trying to differentiate the American Black Duck and the female Mallard.”  Low and behold, the first time I saw one, I was indeed mistaken in thinking I was looking at some kind of off-colored Mallard.  However, when I was able to see a Mallard and the American Black Duck next to each other, their difference in color was then quite apparent.  The American Black Duck, while not really black, is several shades darker than a Mallard.  Its color is more of a dark chocolate brown.  This bird is known as the “Dusky Duck” in some circles, which is probably a better name, as it only appears “black” from a distance.
The American Black Duck and the Mallard are similar in size, similar in behavior, their voices sound the same, and these dabblers even interbreed regularly.  Some birding authorities even consider these two ducks to not be separate species at all.  (Which I think makes for an interesting debate).
Here in Indiana I’ve seen American Black Ducks in “decent” numbers over these winter months.  However, their numbers are being watched closely by concerned conservationists, because it’s well documented that the population of American Black Ducks is only about half of what it was before the 1950’s.
I know many of us don’t go birdwatching during these winter months, but I challenge you to study up on this very interesting bird, and you’ll probably find yourself motivated to get out and try to catch sight of an American Black Duck before they head out of our area and toward their breeding grounds. (You’ve got about a month and a half left!)

Douglas “Birdman” Gray has been birding almost all of his life. He grew up on a family farm near Clarksville, Tennessee, where they grew crops ranging from apricots to wheat, and most things in between. They also raised chickens, guineas, pigs, horses, and a cow named…….Apples. Doug’s grandfather identified the birds they would see daily on the farm.
Doug now resides in Indianapolis and works in Parenteral Engineering with Eli Lilly and Company. Most of his current birding takes place in Indiana, with a concentration on Central Indiana, where he leads bird walks for “Backyard Birds”. Doug can be reached at 317-255-7333.

December’s Bird of the Month


Douglas “Birdman” Grey, Outdoor Afro Contributor
As one who spends a lot of time outdoors, I’ve noticed that nature seems harsh at times. Even with birds, their lives can sometimes seem brutal. And some birds even appear to be equipped with “Weapons of War”. Keen and intense eyes, swept-back wings, sleek aerodynamic bodies, razor-sharp talons and menacing beaks.
But the Bird of the Month for this month, doesn’t possess any of these weapons of war. This month’s bird is the common, but not so commonly known, Ruddy Duck.
When it comes to ducks, we as humans typically consider them to be …”cute”. We are usually introduced to ducks even before we can speak. They animate our baby books. They cover our baby bibs. They float in our baby baths. They’re symbols of cheer for us, usually from an early age. And this is probably because they’re just so ding dang …”cute”.
The Ruddy Duck is an odd bird but it is, in my opinion …”cute”. I find the rattling sounds this bird makes during courtship a bit odd … but cute. During the breeding season the male’s bill turns a bright blue. I find a blue bill on a bird a bit odd … yet cute. They have an odd looking spiked tail, which is often times held straight up, which makes them look even more …”cute”.
While checking out a very large retention pond a few weeks back, I noticed a number of different species of waterfowl out on the water and among them were about 80 or so Ruddy Ducks. I spent almost an hour observing them, all the while thinking, “Awwww…those Ruddys…they are just soooo cute!”
(Just then a Bald Eagle swooped in, snatched one right out of the water, and carried it off for consumption. The life of birds can seem brutal at times.)

By Lynne Arrowsmith

Douglas “Birdman” Gray has been birding almost all of his life. He grew up on a family farm near Clarksville, Tennessee, where they grew crops ranging from apricots to wheat, and most things in between. They also raised chickens, guineas, pigs, horses, and a cow named…….Apples. Doug’s grandfather identified the birds they would see daily on the farm.

Doug now resides in Indianapolis and works in Parenteral Engineering with Eli Lilly and Company. Most of his current birding takes place in Indiana, with a concentration on Central Indiana, where he leads bird walks for “Backyard Birds”. Doug can be reached at 317-255-7333.

Douglas “Birdman” Gray

“African Americans have a somewhat unknown heritage in the historical realm of birding”

Outdoor Afro interviews Douglas Gray, an avid birder, who shares in his own words the gratification he experiences birding, and why it is an important and relevant activity for anyone.
How did you develop an interest in birds?
My interest in birds started as a young child.  I grew up on my grandfather’s farm outside Clarksville, Tennessee (actually Woodlawn, Tennessee, but “Woodlawn” is a lot harder to find on a map!).  Naturally I would see many birds on the farm, and I’d ask my grandfather, “Granddaddy, what’s the name of that bird?” My grandfather, who only had a 6th grade education, somehow knew the names of all the birds we would encounter on the farm.  I’m sure that’s what initiated my interest in birds.  I’ve been told I don’t “look” like a bird watcher, so this question is probably the most frequent question I get asked.
Where is your favorite place to look for birds? And where in the world would you like to bird you have yet to visit?

Many times I’m looking for a particular species of bird, so many times my “favorite place to look for birds” is the particular habitat of the bird I’m searching for. However, if I “had” to pick a specific spot, it’s going to probably be in the southern United States.  This past fall I went birding at a place called Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida…and had one of the best birding times of my life.  I look forward to returning there soon and often.  I like birding at National Wildlife Refuges across the US.
I would absolutely LOVE to bird throughout Central and South America, and also Africa. I’m also developing a good birding relationship with a friend who lives in Uganda, and will likely be going there next year.
Why should African Americans take an interest in birds and their habitat?
This is an interesting question.  African Americans, like everyone else, should take an interest in birding, because it puts you “outdoors” and anytime one gets in the Great Outdoors, it is a natural stress reliever. Being out in nature is possibly, I believe, the most calming, relaxing, and unwinding thing one can do.  It really helps put our sometimes fast paced and hectic lives into a better and more realistic prospective by slowing us down.  And while out in nature, what better thing to do than bird? Yes, I’m using “bird” as a verb; I suggest the book, “The Verb To Bird”.
And also, we African Americans have a somewhat unknown heritage in the historical realm of birding.  John James Audubon is the “Godfather of American Birding”.  Audubon’s mother was not well known.  The reason for this is because she was a Creole slave.  Audubon was born in Haiti in 1785.
Wow — that’s fascinating. So, if someone were to get started, what are the three most important things they need to have? Is it easy? What are some barriers (if any)?
I believe the three most important things to have in getting started birding are: 1) Binoculars, 2) Identification Guide, and 3) Desire.  Binoculars are important because birds have no particular interest in folks approaching them and observing them.  So the binoculars allow you to see birds up close, without actually having to be up close to them.  I usually tell folks to get a decent pair of binoculars.  You can get a decent pair of binoculars in the 60-100 dollar range.  A bird identification guide is a very useful tool also.  It will greatly assist in identifying the birds you do see…and just aren’t sure what they are.  And having a desire to see birds will never be extinguished.  Birding is a pursuit that will easily last a lifetime.  A very close fourth item is to go birding with more experienced birders.  Birders love passing along knowledge they’ve gained through experience.  Find a free bird hike in your area by checking out the National Audubon Society’s web site.

Birding can be both easy and challenging.  For example it can be easy identifying a bird as a “sparrow” that’s at your feeder, but it can be challenging differentiating the 3-5 different species of sparrows at your feeder, or the 20-30 different species of sparrows all within an hour’s drive of the feeder in your backyard at different times of the year.
Anybody can birdwatch.  There are no obstacles or barriers that cannot be overcome when the desire is there to see birds. (That includes obstacles like poison ivy and stinging nettle one may bump into off the beaten trail…lol.)  I’ve even had folks on some of my bird hikes who have been constrained to wheel chairs…and some of those have been my favorite and most memorable hikes.
What was the first bird to make your ‘life’ list? What bird do you hope to see in the future?
I’ll answer this question by mentioning the bird that reignited my interest in birds.  About 15 years ago I looked outside and saw a bird hopping around my yard and I had no idea what that bird was.  It led me to buy my first Bird Identification Guide since my high school years.  The bird was a juvenile robin.  The very common American Robin was the bird that pulled me back into the world of birding.
Name a bird species you hope to see in the future:

Wow…I can’t even answer this question, because there are so many birds that I hope to see.  I will say that it is my desire to see thousands of different bird species during my lifetime…and to enjoy and appreciate each and every one that I do see!

Douglas Gray resides in Indianapolis and works in Parenteral Engineering with Eli Lilly and Company. Most of his current birding takes place in Indiana, with a concentration on Central Indiana, where he leads bird walks for Backyard Birds.