Wednesday, April 22, 2009

At the pond... Killdeer

KilldeerKilldeer, Fernhill Wetlands, Forest Grove, Oregon on 11 April 2009 by Greg Gillson.


While the Killdeer does frequent mudflats around ponds, this upland shorebird is just as likely on a gravel farm road, golf course, plowed field, or even in a parking lot with a grassy median.

It is in the breeding season that this bold, robin-sized bird comes to the attention of casual observers and the general public. Because it lays its eggs in gravel--often the center or edge of a lightly-traveled gravel road--it has a unique way to protect its nest and young. When a potential threat (human or animal) approaches too near, the nesting bird sneaks a distance away from the nest and begins a distraction display. Screaming loudly and feigning a broken wing, fanning its tail and exposing its bright orange rump, the parent bird drags itself along--apparently severely injured--and leads the predator away. When it has led the intruder far enough away from the nest or young, it "miraculously" recovers and flies off, seeming to laugh: kill-dee! kill-dee!

The young are precocial, leaving the nest within a day or two of hatching. The fuzzy, golf ball sized chicks follow their parents about. When danger appears, the chicks freeze, and the parents go into the distraction display to lead the danger away. Interestingly, the chicks and juveniles have only one black chest band, rather than the two of the adult. In such a case, an inexperienced birder may mistake the young Killdeer for a Semipalmated Plover, or even something rare like the Wilson's Plover.

The Killdeer breeds across North America, from southern Alaska eastward, and south from California to Florida and the northern half of Mexico. It migrates out of the northern and frozen interior to the coast and south, joining other birds that are apparently non-migratory. A separate population is resident in the West Indies, and a third population is resident in Peru.

In the Pacific Northwest the Killdeer is found in grasslands, meadows, wetlands, farms, and similar human-altered open spaces. They are absent from forests, high mountains, sage flats, deserts, and ocean beaches. However, they are found along shores of rivers, ponds, and lakes throughout these other habitats.