In my youth, the “Sunday bird” was a roast chicken, but we can do better than that now. Showing a bird at week’s beginning isn’t yet a website tradition (though, given the number of bird-smitten readers, perhaps it should be), but I wanted to post two photos of a kildeer and her eggs contributed by our anonymous reader who lives in Idaho. He noted that she was nesting on the ground right next to where he parked his truck (click to enlarge). In the first photo she’s defending her nest.
Kildeer (Charadrius vociferus) are denizens of the northern part of the Western hemisphere, though they winter in Central America. Their protectiveness of their young is legendary; as Wikipedia notes:
Their name comes from their frequently heard call. These birds will frequently use a distraction display (“broken-wing act”) to distract predators from their nests. This involves the bird walking away from its nesting area holding its wing in a position that simulates an injury and then flapping around on the ground emitting a distress call. The predators then think they have easy prey and are attracted to this seemingly injured bird and away from the nest. If the parent sees that a potential predator is not following them, they will move closer and get louder until they get the attention of the predator. This is repeated until the predator is far from the nest, and the killdeer suddenly “heals” and flies away.
Here’s a short but lovely video of a distraction display. Be sure to watch until the kildeer plays dead and rolls over:
Imagine the process of natural selection that produced this behavior: it involves not only walking away from the nest (something would seem maladaptive from the outset), but combining that walk with a broken-wing or death display. There must, of course, have been genetic variation for those behaviors in the kildeer’s ancestors.