Backyard Birding – Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

The pond behind our backyard has changed a bit over the last few weeks.  We haven’t seen any American Coots for a while, and the Ring-necked Ducks have migrated to wherever Ring-necked Ducks go for the summer.  But we have some newcomers – a few Black-necked Stilts.  These lively wading birds prance and peck through the shallows at the pond’s edge looking for beetles and tadpoles.  Their high contrast black and white markings and their bright pink legs, make them a joy to watch for both birders and non-birders alike.

Nature vs. Video Game

Last Sunday I called my six-year-old daughter to come outside to see the American Coots chasing each other in the pond behind our backyard.  She had just started a video game, so I was surprised when she readily agreed and stepped outside.  We watched their game of tag for a little while and then decided to take a walk around the small pond.  It was a beautiful mid-November South Florida afternoon — perfect walking weather.  We began by tossing some bird seed at some of the Muscovy Ducks who roam our community.  Then we continued along keeping our eyes peeled for what the Great Outdoors had to offer.  I scanned the trees for sparrows and finches, while she was fascinated by the little rust-colored butterflies fluttering in the grass.  Eventually she announced that I was the bird explorer and she was the the butterfly explorer.  That was just fine with me.

Feeding Muscovy Ducks

Along the way we ran into a Greater Yellowlegs that I had first spotted a few weeks earlier.  At the time I had first seen this very interesting wading bird, I hadn’t been sure if it was a Greater or Lesser Yellowlegs, but this time he let me get pretty close and I was able to watch him for quite a while.  His long bill was approximately twice as long as the thickness of his head and had a slight upward curve. A Lesser would have had a shorter, straighter bill.

Greater Yellowlegs

We continued our walk and approached a group of approximately twenty birds that had been swimming in the middle of the pond.  As we drew near they suddenly took to the air in unison and flew away from us, resettling seconds later at the far end of the pond.  I had been watching them from my window the last few days and they had been diving below the surface so I had just assumed they were more American Coots.  We have had coots in the pond ever since we moved in this past summer.  But when these guys left the water and sped across the pond it became very obvious that they were not coots.  They were ducks.  They were a lot smaller than the Muscovy Ducks, but duck nonetheless.

Ring-necked Ducks

We slowly made our way toward these newcomers, not wanting to startle them, but needing to get closer if we were going to have a chance at identification.  It seemed that every time we got within a certain distance they would relocate further away, but eventually we found a spot under an wooden overhang that allowed us to watch from a comfortable distance.  The ducks had black heads and backs. Their bellies were gray.  They had small yellow eyes and black bills marked with bright white stripes.  Some of them were a little brownish in color with less striking features.  Later when I was able to identify these shy swimmers as Ring-necked Duck, I found out the brownish ones were the females.

American Coot and Muscovy Duck

We eventually closed the loop around the pond and were back to our yard.  I expected my daughter to run back in to finish the video game she had paused an hour before, but when I began to walk toward the door, she said that she wasn’t ready yet.  So we hung out under the shade tree in our backyard and talked and picked some of the little flowers growing in the grass until she was finally ready to go back inside.  Nature won this round.

Until Next Time,

The Bird Explorer with the Butterfly Exploring Daughter