Saturday, June 10, 2006


It amazes me how many creatures are able to adapt to “city life.” We were visiting a nursery setting beside a busy road. Wandering through the rows of plants we discovered humming birds, sparrows and warblers. As we strolled through some of the larger plants and trees something seemed to explode from the ground just a short distance from us. We had startled a Killdeer.
Elegantly garbed in rich brown with black and white accents and a golden-tawny rump these members of the Plover family spend a lot of their time on the ground. Not only do they run more than fly, they even nest on the ground. Their eggs and chicks are so well camouflaged that it's not hard to step on them. That's part of the reason the parents act as if they have a broken wing when you come near their nest; they want to draw you away from their vulnerable clutch. When intruders approach their nest, they react as a natural alarm system - alerting all other wildlife to its presence. They will try to lure the intruders or predators away from their nest by pretending to be injured while emitting their loud cries and moving slowly away until they have drawn their subject off to a safe distance from the nest.
My husband shares a childhood memory of the book Little Killdeer by Ruth Wheeler. Published in the late 1940’s, it was an early venture into photojournalism for children. Even in the black and white close-up photos in the book it was easy to overlook the nest, speckled eggs and camouflage covered chicks.
Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Birds refers to them as “The common noisy breeding plover of the farm country” and range maps show them to be resident all across the southern US as well as breeding throughout the northern half of the states. In our mixed forest woodland, however, the Killdeer is non-existent; a bird of fields, airports, lawns, riverbanks and shores, it is just not at home is our hilly woodlands. So it was a special treat for us when we observed this old friend watching us carefully from the edge of a field while we browsed among plants in the Hudson Valley nursery. When we brought out the camera and moved in for a few shots it was obviously the signal to bring out the old broken wing act. It was nice to spend a few minutes observing an old friend even though our appreciation was obviously not reciprocated.


Blogger CabinWriter-- said...

I need to spend a morning with you so you can show me these birds. I think on our property there are few, but in reality, they may be hidden from my sight. I feel I'm getting educated through your entries.

12:34 PM  
Blogger MojoMan said...

Amazing photos. I am debating about starting to use a camera for my blog.

Also, thanks for the natural history lesson about killdeer acting as a decoy. I'll have to test that next time I see one.

Cabinwriter: If you have them, you'll know. They are very noisy.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Wow... I have heard of killdeer, but I have never seen one. Nice pictures.

As for birds, they are so fun to watch. I spend hours and hours.. watching our Scrub Jays, finches, and chickadees.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

very interesting and beautiful...

1:22 PM  
Blogger Wenda said...

What a beauty!

5:05 PM  
Blogger LauraHinNJ said...

How nice of it to do its display for you!


Beautiful pics - love their coloring - love to hear their "killdee... killdee..killdee!"

8:26 PM  
Blogger kerrdelune said...

Beautiful imagery, both visual and written. I have always enjoyed seeing Killdeer out in Lanark, and I love their song, plaintive and rather eery. I can remember as a child encountering these plovers in the fields of southern Ontario and being lured away from their nests by the "broken wing" manoeuvre.

8:35 PM  
Blogger boredomrebel said...

I did not know 89.84% of that. I could actually see what you were writing, the pictures helped too.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Susan Gets Native said...

I love killdeer! They are very, very common here, but they still thrill me whenever I see them.
Their ploy backfires when it's a human...that's the only way to find their nests!

11:57 PM  
Anonymous Sandy said...

Beautiful shots!
We used to have lots of killdeer around our house. I haven't seen or heard one in years. Now, I wonder why.

7:24 AM  
Blogger S.L. White said...

Great photos and story, Endment. Did you find the nest? She must have been nesting in the nursery, I guess-- sounds like a challenge, with so many people about. Let us know how she does.

We once flushed a nighthawk on North Table Mountain-- stopped us in our tracks, and still took us several minutes to spot the eggs so we could avoid stepping on them.

10:45 AM  
Blogger seeker said...

Fantastic imagery.

6:23 PM  
Blogger Jimmy said...

Very good pictures...we had a nest near by and it got ran over by a truck.

8:07 PM  
Blogger HoBess said...

He's beautiful. And I love the poem about listening, especially the part about learning how to hear. Happy day!

10:08 AM  
Blogger Kara said...

I've never seen a killdeer. How fascinating! Do you carry your camera with you everywhere you go?

10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was so interesting, I had no idea birds did this. Wow, great shots and you are a VERY good story teller.

1:16 PM  
Blogger tai haku said...

what a pretty plover. sounds like they behave exactly like our lapwings with the wing display

3:44 PM  
Blogger woman wandering said...

I really enjoyed your blog, delighting in the mix of photography, words and the poetry.

11:33 PM  
Blogger silverlight said...

What wonderful photos. Great camera work, you are getting very sharp pictures and terrific detail.
Good composition.

2:53 AM  
Anonymous Hanna in Cleveland said...

I was just stopping by to thank you for leaving a comment on my blog.

And here I have a plesant surprise in your most recent post. I have wonderfully fond memories of killdeer from my childhood.

My siblings and I use to chase the killdeer when they were pretending to be hurt and hunt for their nests in our backyard. While chasing them may have been a bit cruel (we were kids), we were always careful to just look at their nests and never touch.

I have not seen a killdeer nor heard mention of them since I was 12 when my parents moved from that house.

Thank you for helping me bring back such nice memories with your words and your pictures.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

Ah...NOW I know what a killdeer looks like. In a fabulous (and edgy and intense) novel by Tom Spanbauer, the main character plays a game he calls "killdeer". Your post here deepened this much loved book for me and provided visual representation as well. Thank you!

10:54 AM  
Blogger robin andrea said...

endment-- I tried to leave a comment a few times yesterday (Monday), but blogger was being very bad, and wouldn't let me. These photos are beautiful. I love how you captured the kildeer's behavior. We had a similar experience with a killdeer here in the northwest, but did not realize why it was behaving like that.

10:58 AM  
Anonymous Cindy said...

I too miss Killdeers- each spring when we'd till our garden area, I had to do a killdeer 'nest chick' because their nests are nothing more than small depressions lined with pebbles.
Enjoyed the photos and reminiscing both :)

12:39 PM  
Blogger Pam in Tucson said...

Really enjoyed this post. A fascinating story and wonderful accompanying photos. What a thrill it must have been to witness this behaviour.

1:28 AM  
Blogger Gwyn said...

Wow, you got some awesome shots. I see them often around here. I have memories from childhood of a clutch of chicks whose parents had been shot by some stupid kid in the neighborhood. My younger brother had been rearing pheasants, so we had the set up and we tried valiantly to keep the Kildeer alive. They were so cute, miniature fuzzy versions of the parents.

10:30 AM  

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