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.