Killdeer master at feigning broken wing

By E.H. Van Blaricom, for The Observer May 13, 2010 02:51 pm

JOSEPH — I chose the killdeer as my bird of the month mostly because they are the most widely spread North American shorebird.

Killdeer can be found from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Gulf of Mexico to a large part of Canada. Although a few killdeer can be seen in the northern states in winter, most of them migrate to the southern states.

 

They are among the early arrivals in the springtime here in Oregon along with robins and bluebirds. They seldom build what could be called a nest as they like to lay their eggs in a small depression in rocky gravel where their spotted eggs look like rocks.

This tendency to lay their eggs in gravel along country roads is frequently a bad choice as county road graders often inadvertently wipe out their nests.

Almost everyone has witnessed the old broken wing trick that killdeers use to lure dogs and people away from their nests. Killdeers are masters of this fake performance.

If killdeers are not disturbed, they seldom always hatch all four chicks, which can take off running with their mother as soon as they hatch and start eating insects.

When we were kids, we used to catch some of the newborn chicks and hold them against our faces to feel their soft down. Then we would turn them loose to rejoin their frantic mother. If there is anything cuter than a baby killdeer, I have yet to see it.

I need to tell a little about the survival instincts of baby killdeers. Their first instinct from danger is to dive for cover and remain motionless. But when they are near water, they can swim away or even dive under water like newborn wild ducks. Young killdeers are slow to grow for the first two to three weeks, but then before you know it, they are flying and almost as big as their parents with the same plumage.

The adult mother killdeer in my photo shows how she uses her long legs to keep me from getting too close as she lures me away from her eggs.


E.H. Van Blaricom of Joseph writes the Birds of a Feather column monthly

for The Observer.