A Parent Killdeer Doing a “Broken Wing” Behavior

A parent Killdeer working to protect its young — although it did but need to with me.

In “The Precocious Killdeer,” Diane Porter says:

“You sometimes see an adult killdeer in gravel, such as along a rocky railroad easement, or on a dirt road. As you approach, the killdeer may suddenly develop a broken wing. It struggles in front of you, as if it can barely walk, let alone fly. One or both wings drag pitifully on the ground.

If your instinct to rescue the killdeer overcomes you, and you try to catch the bird, it almost lets you reach out and pick it up. But somehow, while struggling to keep its balance, the killdeer manages to stay one step ahead of you. As you pursue it, the killdeer leads you farther and farther away from its four downy killdeer babies crouching on the ground or half hidden under a tiny bush.

“When the killdeer feels that the young are safe from you, its broken wing heals suddenly, and the bird flies away, calling a loud ‘KILL-DEE’.”

More good reading and good pictures there.

In “Killdeer: a true tale of nests, eggs, and chicks a-hatching,” Robert Groos writes:

“This past April, Killdeer began appearing on the mudflats around a lake near my home in the oak woodlands south of Yosemite National Park. I had high hopes of photographing their nesting activity and offspring. Following is my account of three pairs mating, five nests, twelve eggs, and seven chicks. It’s complicated, so sit down, relax, and read on.

“Killdeer are on constant high alert. They will most likely see you before you see them. You know you’ve been spotted when you hear their alarm calls: shrill, repetitive, and ear piercing. The sound travels a good 1/4 mile. Appropriately, the Latin name given this member of the Plover family is ‘charadrius vociferus.’ Vociferous, indeed.

“As for the common name, what an odd appellation for a bird, don’t you think? 18th century naturalists settled on the name ‘killdeer’ because the bird regularly seems to vocalize that sound (kee dee dee). Listen to the recording below, and see what you think:

“Killdeer typically lay their eggs on the ground, in a shallow depression surrounded by low vegetation. Add a few stones, perhaps, and that’s about it. Because of the color of its plumage, the adult attending the nest blends right in, so much so that you would be hard pressed see it, even if you knew it was there.

“It was in mid-May that I discovered my first Killdeer nest. I might have stepped on it while walking down a slope to the water’s edge had one adult not been wildly performing broken wing display.

“ ‘Broken wing’ is a distraction tactic that some birds exhibit to draw predators away from the nest or their flightless chicks. Feigning injury, Killdeer hobble a short distance, then pause while making a shrill, trilling sound. When the predator comes near, the bird suddenly moves further away, again and again. Once far from the nest, the bird flies off, leaving the predator behind to look for something else to eat. Their flight call seems to say: ‘Ha, I sure fooled you.’ I can attest from personal experience that this behavior is quite effective in dealing with camera-toting predators.”

More good reading and good pictures there.

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