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Dan Jordan’s Wild World: Killdeer-Nature’s Actors

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“Killdeer are a joy to watch”

By Dan Jordan, Jordan Photography and Consulting

Killdeer are fascinating birds.  Members of the plover family, they are well known for their acting skills.  More on that in a bit.

Killdeer are roughly 10 inches long and stand on long legs, suitable for running.  They have a wingspan of up to 2 feet and are expert fliers.  They get their strange name from their call which sounds like “kill-dee”.   They are omnivores and are even known to forage for dead minnows, so I suppose that classifies them as part time scavengers.  Their diet ranges from insects to earthworms to crayfish to agricultural seeds and even frogs.  I see killdeer every day lakeside, but their habitat is not limited to water features.

Their range includes all of North and Central America and even parts of northern South America.  There is even a sub-species which inhabits many of the Caribbean islands.  Northern residents tend to be migratory.

I noticed that our migratory killdeer returned to our area very early this year, compared to recent history.  Our mild winter and the overall climate warming trend is surely affecting their migratory patterns.  We had a couple of winter blasts after the killdeer returned, causing me to wonder what foods they were finding in the snow and ice.  I never figured that out, but apparently, they did, as I continued to see them during and after the snowfall.

Killdeer are a joy to watch.  Their territorial skirmishes, both on land and in the air, are something to behold.  They run on those long legs very effectively and their low elevation flights remind me of military aircraft in dogfights.

Killdeer are ground nesters and lay cleverly camouflaged brown and white eggs.  Both parents defend the nests from predation which brings me to their acting skills.  Scientists call what they do “injury feigning”.  When the nest is threatened, one or both adults will go into a broken wing display, where they “act injured” to lure the predator or interloper away from the nest.  They will limp along, until the threat has followed them, then fly off when the predator gets too close for comfort.

The above photo shows such a display when I recently “got too close” to a nest in my mobile bird blind (or Bronco as most people know it).   Below is another injury feigning killdeer doing its best John Wayne or Meryl Streep impression for me.  Of course, I fell for it, and followed the killdeer the 50 feet or so that it led me away from its nesting site.

I am really looking forward to photographing the young killdeer this spring, as there seem to be about a dozen pairs of killdeers in the area that I observe them.

I have not quite mastered the skill of identifying the males and females yet.  According to my research, the females have browner masks and breast bands than the males.  For that reason, I reckon that the above photo is of a female, however, since lighting plays a big role in the color of a subject, the warm light of this photo may have influenced the “brown appearance” of her(?) feathers.

So, without further ado, below are some more photos, all taken in 2023 from the single observation location where I travel daily to watch the killdeer (and to photograph them, of course).

Above is presumably a male.  Features are NOT brown.

Killdeer taking flight, showing off its long wings.

A meeting of the minds, so to speak.  It was a very cold morning, perhaps they were huddled for warmth.

Killdeer found a juicy earthworm.

I am unable to explain this behavior.  Something certainly got this killdeer’s “tailfeathers in a bunch!”

Killdeer posing for the camera.

And the last is more of an artistic photo than a descriptive one.   It is arguably my favorite photos ever of a killdeer and one of my favorites of any species.  The bird was down a bank, partially hidden by the grass. It only showed me its head.  The red eyeliner that all killdeer have is on display in this image.

So, there you have it, another edition of Dan Jordan’s Wild World is complete.  As I always say, keep your eyes and ears open when you’re out and about.  You never know what interesting things you will see and/or hear when you “pay attention” to nature.


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