That’s one down-to-earth bird
We found the young bird just where I had left it, and its performance was worthy of a Spoleto play. As we approached, this talented thespian cried loudly, darted to and fro while gradually moving away and even flopped about as if hurt. Primarily, it just wanted to be the center of attention. It also never lost sight of where this whole charade had started, and for good reason.
I brought my wife, Jenny, back to this place to watch the show. It was a display I have seen before, and one which can include faked broken wings and even the apparent inability to walk, run or fly. This bird was a killdeer, Charadrius vociferous, and it was living up to its name. These birds will do nearly anything to attract trespassers’ attention and to lead them away from their completely vulnerable nests on the open ground. And while I would typically use “she,” the male and female killdeer share the role of egg incubator and are nearly identical in appearance.
The killdeer, while it is in the plover family, is one of the least water-associated of all shorebirds, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website, allaboutbirds.org. In fact, while they can be found occasionally on mud flats, sandbars, and shorelines, the Audubon Society lists primary habitats as “fields, airports, lawns and pastures.” On Daniel Island, they can frequently be found in open areas recently cleared for construction.
That is where I first came across these young killdeer and their nest. I was playing fetch with our dog, Finn, on an empty lot, when we got too close to the nesting bird for its comfort. It began to call, run and then even drag a wing, as if injured, to get our attention. Having a hunch what was probably going on, I was careful to keep the dog close to me while I located the killdeer’s nest. Every year, thousands of killdeer are born in South Carolina, protected in the nest only by the parents’ antics and the eggs’ ability to blend in with their surroundings.
I have watched this nest for weeks, but today was unique. First, there were two adult killdeer flying frantically about, calling loudly and feigning all sorts of injuries. Second, I couldn’t find the nest, and I knew quite well where it had been. Sure enough, as one of the new parents winged noisily by within a few yards, I spotted the other leading at least two newborns in a sprint for deeper cover. I thought I should leave them alone, so I headed home.
The killdeer ranges from central Canada to Central America and from coast to coast. It can be found in the Lowcountry any time of year. While the bird is about the size and shape of a sandpiper, its coloration is closer to that of a bobwhite quail. The call is quite unique and most frequently described as a shrill “kill-dee, kill-dee” or “kill-deer, kill-deer.” Nesting is occurring now, and a typical nest will have three to five eggs which take just under four weeks to hatch. The newborns are great runners but won’t fly until they are about 25 days old.
If you encounter bird behavior like this, please STOP, stand still and examine the area where you first noticed the bird. It is very easy to miss the nest and step on the well-hidden eggs. And if you are lucky, you may get treated to a complimentary play, courtesy of Mother Nature, in the theater of the great outdoors.