Readers’ wildlife photos

June 10, 2014 • 4:23 am

The kildeer (Charadrius vociferus) is famous for not only laying its eggs in a nest on the ground, but, because of the danger of predators finding its eggs, for giving several displays to lead predators away from the nest. As the Cornell Lab website notes:

The Killdeer’s broken-wing act [it acts as if it’s injured while walking away from the next, tempting predators to nom the faux-wounded bird and ignore the eggs] leads predators away from a nest, but doesn’t keep cows or horses from stepping on eggs. To guard against large hoofed animals, the Killdeer uses a quite different display, fluffing itself up, displaying its tail over its head, and running at the beast to attempt to make it change its path.

You can hear five of its calls here. Reader Stephen Barnard (surprise!) sent a series of photos of a bird engaged in its distraction display. His notes:

This Killdeer was luring me from the nest.

Before anyone gets on my case for stressing birds, let me say that I wasn’t looking for the nest or chasing the bird. I was inspecting my 2-acre native wildflower seeding project for weeds and I had my camera.

I’ve also sent a photo of last year’s nest, which was literally right next to where I’d get in my truck. They hatched and raised four.


This looks like the “fluffing-up” display, though Stephen doesn’t note whether the bird was running at him.


But this looks like a broken-wing display:

Fluffed up? The bird isn’t running at the photographer.


What lovely eggs!


14 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. “I was inspecting my 2-acre native wildflower seeding project for weeds…”

    Yup. That’s what needs to done if you want a flower meadow with a few weeds instead of a weed patch with some flowers. It would be interesting to see photos of Stephen’s project as it progresses.

    Gorgeous and interesting photos!

      1. It probably won’t be much this year, but next year should look good.

        Here are the species I seeded:

        Castilleja flava Yellow Paintbrush
        Penstemon eatonii Firecracker Penstemon
        Cleome Serrulata Rocky Mountain Bee Plant
        Aciepias speciosa Showy Milkweed
        Epilobium augustafoliom Fireweed
        Linum perenne v. lewisii Blue Flax APPAR
        Viguiera multiflora Showy Goldeneye
        Balsomorhiza sagattata Arrowleaf Balsamroot
        Sphaeralcea munroana Munroe Glovemallow
        Penstemon rydbergii Rydberg’s Penstemon
        Penstemon venustus Blue Mountain Penstemon

      2. I’m also planting another section around the house with foxglove, delphinium, columbine, bee balm, and a few other things. The idea is to get bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. We bring in bee keepers to pollinate the alfalfa, but alfalfa can’t support pollinators by itself through the whole season.

  2. We have a nearly immaculate ‘shade garden’, and we also have our ‘sun garden’. I often refer to the latter as our ‘weed garden’. There are ornamentals in there somewhere….

  3. Unlike ducks, which also do the broken-wing thing, both the male and female killdeer take an active interest in protecting the nest. They act almost like a tag team.

    Baby killdeer are impossibly cute, but I haven’t managed a good photo. They’re up and running the same day that they hatch.

  4. It would be interesting to plot the trajectories of birds doing distraction displays, I bet there’s some interesting psychological geometry going on.
    [A quick GS search suggests I previously thought about this while reading Dennett (discussed here), but I don’t see any studies testing the idea.]
    I’d predict the bird should not head directly away from the nest, because that would effectively ‘point’ to it; but perhaps it should also not consistently avoid heading directly away from the nest either, because predators are smart.

    1. Killdeer make it difficult to spot the nest. Like you suggest, their antics are random. You can’t just backtrack them to find it. I don’t really try, but I’d love to get some adorable baby killdeer photos.

  5. vociferus

    , the specific name. I got as far as that and I thought “I bet there is a clue in that name!”.
    Lessee …

    a quite different display, fluffing itself up, displaying its tail over its head, and running at the beast to attempt to make it change its path.

    A display modelled on my former flat-mate “Runtus (Keith) runtissimus”
    I still don’t understand how that worked. But he did meet his match in the doctor with prescription pads and a liking for humiliation and bondage. Which was highly entertaining.

  6. My spouse and I love killdeer. We have had a couple of them lay eggs in our driveway, which caused us to put up a sawhorse with a sign saying “Detour –> killdeer nest.” We’ve also seen them on a dirt road near our house, the parent using the broken-wing ruse.

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