Sunday, June 1, 2014

Killdeer nest on the north green...

We finally have a nesting pair of Killdeer at the office! Larry spotted the nest a week or so ago, and I photographed the bird and the eggs on May 20. We set up a ring of orange cones around the nest to keep the evil lawnmower man from inadvertently running over it. I checked the nest over the weekend, and Momma Killdeer is still attending her four eggs...

Momma Killdeer keeping a watchful eye on the nest.
Killdeer usually lay four eggs in a nest that is nothing more than a scrape in the dirt. They love gravelly areas, so it was no surprise our couple placed their nest near the rocky swale leading to the detention pond. Killdeer are not timid birds, and they don't shy away from human habitation. They often nest in gravel along parking lots and sidewalks. Last June I photographed a Killdeer couple that nested at the Lindner Family Tennis Center...right in the middle of the action (click here if you want to read about that encounter).

Four Killdeer eggs hidden in plain sight. 
The cryptic coloration pattern on the eggs provides camouflage. If you don't know exactly where to look, the eggs are nearly invisible. Killdeer are members of the plover family, which makes them shorebirds, but you don't have to go to the shore to see them. They love short grass, meadows, gravelly driveways and roadsides, golf courses, and even construction areas. They do like to be near water, however, and our slow-moving little stream seems to do the trick (yeah, little stream!). It's easy to distinguish Killdeer from other plovers because they have two black breast bands and a red eye ring. You would think this plumage coloration would make them easy prey for predators, but the black bands provide disruptive coloration, an effective camouflage pattern for rocky and gravelly terrain.

Two black breast bands and a red eye ring distinguish adult Killdeer from other plovers.
Killdeer move on the ground like other plovers, running in short bursts and then stopping suddenly. If you get too close to the nest, one of the nesting pair will exhibit a broken-wing distraction display. You know you're too close to the nest if you see the bird flopping around like it has a broken wing while uttering a pitiful cry. The adult is trying to lead you away from the nest. I didn't get a photo of the broken-wing distraction display because I used my long lens and was far away. I didn't want to disturb the couple because I wanted to make sure they would stick around. Click here for the tennis center post mentioned earlier, which has an example of the broken-wing behavior.

After a short mad dash, our little Killdeer pauses to look around.

I can never resist that beautiful red eye ring!
Killdeer chicks are precocial, which means when they hatch their eyes are open, and they are ready for business! Unlike robins, cardinals, sparrows, and other common songbirds that hatch blind, featherless, and unable to feed themselves (altricial), Killdeer chicks hatch with fluffy feathers, and they are up, moving, and ready to eat on their own as soon as their feathers dry. Precocial birds stay in the egg twice as long as altricial songbirds, which usually hatch in about two weeks. Our little Killdeer hatchlings won't make an appearance until they have incubated for about 25 days. Until then, the orange cones will stay on the north green...

Stay away lawnmower man (as well as raccoons, opossums, skunks, foxes, squirrels, and even mice...all predators of the ground nesting Killdeer).

12 comments:

TexWisGirl said...

glad you're keeping them safe - as safe as you can, anyway. :)

TexWisGirl said...

and thanks for the precocial lesson!

Frank said...

That's a cool species to have nesting on the North Green.

Similar nesting habit to our Little Ringed Plover.

Elaine said...

What fun you'll have watching these babies hatch out! Good thing you spotted them and put the cones out because their nest certainly isn't obvious. That evil lawnmower man would have stomped on them for sure.

Janice K said...

I have seen them and enjoy watching how they walk, but I never knew the rest of their story. I hope you get some pictures of the babies.

Have a happy day!

Midmarsh John said...

Lovely photos of a pretty bird.

Tammie Lee said...

such gorgeous portraits
and creatures
and eggs
oh my!
;-)
how wonderful Kelly!

Banjo52 said...

I think of killdeer as fairly common--I think I've been aware of them since I was a kid. Yet I rarely see them, and I certainly didn't know the fascinating info you give us. Also the black stripes on yours are more distinctive than I remember. Once again, the University of Kelly.

Mary said...

Great photos! I love killdeer but they do pick the worst places for their nests. We almost parked our car on a nest in a parking lot once. I was horrified at what we might have done and what someone else might do.

Kelly said...

...thanks, everyone. Our mama and papa are still tending the eggs. No predator has yet touched the nest. Yeah! We are counting down the days. I hope I can post on a successful fledge in the next weeks! :-)

Montanagirl said...

I wonder how I missed this post?? Fabulous shots, Kelly!!

KaHolly said...

I used to have lots of killdeer around here, but you know how man can be.....Oh, this looks like a good place for a second driveway....oh, I have this extra acre of land just sitting here, I think I'll play with my big machinery and scrape it all down to dirt......etc. Haven't seen any here for a couple of years now. I'll just have to take pleasure in yours!