Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Killdeer--Charadrius vociferus

Killdeer on its nest at San Joaquin Wildlife SanctuaryI took pictures of this Killdeer on the nest at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

This little bird built its nest, or I should say scraped its nest in the gravel alongside the path near the Audubon House. I first saw it on the monthly walk at SJWS and later again a different week. Killdeer nest in gravel and flat surfaces and depend on camouflage and distraction displays to keep their eggs and young safe. Killdeer are part of the plover family. Plovers are small shore birds with bills that are short and thick. Killdeer are the only plover to have two bands across the chest. They also have a red ring around each eye. You can see it in the shot above.

Killdeer photo courtesy of the US Department of Fish and Wildlife

Killdeer Photo Courtesy of the US Department of Fish and Wildlife

Killdeer are cute birds. They run around dashing from one thing to another like they have had too much caffeine. And are they loud! They don't call them Charadrius vociferus for nothing. Killdeer are nothing if not vociferous. They call loudly and repeatedly in flight, and are known to call at night. One of the few birds to do so. I can remember living by a wash near the future OC Performing Arts Center and hearing the Killdeer calling loudly all night long. It was not a restful bird song. They are named after the sound they make which sounds like Kill-dee, Kill-dee!! Which sounds like an alarm call. Like "Look out! Look out!" Or "Get out! Get out!" In spite of that, it is one of my favorite birds. I have seen it in fields, a parking lot by the Van Nuys Airport, a wash in Costa Mesa, Bolsa Chica, San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve aka Newport Back Bay , San Jacinto Wildlife Area, and many varied places.

Killdeer in the reeds at San Joaquin Wildlife SanctuaryKilldeer in the reeds and foliage at the first pond. San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary.

Killdeer a Bolsa ChicaKilldeer at Bolsa Chica

Killdeer eat many invertebrate (animals with no backbone) such as crustaceans, insects, worms and other like things in the fields, lawns, and shores they frequent. Sometimes they eat seeds. Like Snowy Egrets, they sometimes use a bit of foot action to stir things up and flush out their dinner.

Killdeer at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary
Killdeer getting uneasy about the presence of people on the path--which we never left. SJWS. Note the eggs under her breast.

Killdeer are widely distributed all over the United States. It is a shore bird, but is often seen far from shore in the desert, on the prairie, grass fields, asphalt parking lots, etc. Not exactly a nest-builder, it lays its eggs in a mere scrap in the ground or gravel. It has been known to nest lots of flat, fairly public, and unlikely areas including lawns and parking lots.

Killdeer eggs in nest at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Killdeer eggs in the gravel. See how well they are camouflaged?

Killdeer put on a loud broken wing display to lure predators away from their nests. They flail and call loudly. It is quite a show. It's downright vociferous. Between the fact that the nest is so hard to see, and the distraction so loud and dramatic, it usually works. Even when I knew the eggs were there, it was really hard to see them. You can see them in the picture because I used my zoom to get a close-up. But if you pull back, in the midst of all that gray gravel, they seem to disappear.

Killdeer on nest long shot at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

A shot with less zoom. See how hard it would be to see a little gray speckled egg?

Killdeer on nest near path San Joaquin Wildlife SanctuaryMother Killdeer on the nest right near a path at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary.
From the front. I twist and turn for Photographs. Actually I was kind of far away. Digital and optical zoom brings it close. Taken with a Kodak Easyshare with 10x optical zoom --6.1 MP.

Killdeer couple at San Jacinto Wildlife Area in Riverside County
Killdeer Couple at San Jacinto Wildlife Area in Riverside County. Quite a place by the way.

OC Birder Girl Links
External Killdeer Links and Resources

Birdwatching.com Killdeer Questions

Great Questions and answers about Killdeer nests.

Cornell's All About Birds: Killdeer

Very thorough article with bird call and maps.

The Precocious Killdeer

Birdwatching.com's article about the Killdeer.

US Geological Survey's Killdeer Charadrius vociferus

Short, but good.

Nature Works: Killdeer

Article on Killdeer.

Animal Diversity Web: Charadrius vociferus

Detailed information.

Montana US Fish and Wildlife: Killdeer

External Plover Links and Resources

eNature Plovers

List of US Plovers.

Encarta: Plovers

Encarta article on Plovers.

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