Readers’ wildlife photos

August 22, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today’s Sunday, so we have a themed batch of bird photos from evolutionary biologist John Avise. His notes and words are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them (twice in succession to make them really large).

Killdeer Chicanery

The Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) gets its name from its high-pitched call: “keeeel deeeer”.  [JAC: The Cornell bird site has an audio page of kildeer calls.] But this species is also known for its “broken-wing” display, which it uses to distract predators from its nest.  Killdeer nest on the ground in a shallow scrape, and whenever a predator approaches, the nest-tender lures the animal from its eggs or chicks by running several yards away and performing a ruse in which it conspicuously flops on the ground pretending it has a broken wing.  [I don’t know of any other bird that routinely displays such behavior.] Only after the confused predator departs does the Killdeer parent return to its nest to incubate the eggs or tend the young.  These pictures were taken in Southern California.

Adult kildeer:

Another adult, with reflection:

Calling “keeel-deeer”:

Adult pair:

Killdeer are actually “shorebirds” (in the family Charadriidae):

Killdeer in flight (note the buffy rump patch):

Another Killdeer in flight (where they often issues their keeel-deeer call):

Nest with camouflaged eggs:

Adult on nest with eggs:

Another view of adult on nest:

Killdeer, broken-wing routine:

Another view of the broken-wing display:

More broken-wing display:

A final view of the broken-wing display:

Kildeer chick:

JAC: I added a video from YouTube showing the broken-wing display in action as well as a kildeer sitting on its nest:

7 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. I recall seeing something like this behavior in tropical nightjars on river islands. These featureless flat habitats are physically very similar to killdeer nesting habitat.

  2. Very nicely done!
    I had once stumbled across a wild turkey who was sheltering her young chicks under a tree. She explosively ran out in front of me (heart attack time), and raised quite a ruckus, working hard to lead me away. I followed her, leaving the adorable babies behind since I did not want them to scatter. The mother did not do an asymmetric broken wing display, as such, but she would droop both of her wings to the ground and turn sideways a lot as if to make sure I could see them.
    She insisted that I follow her quite a ways, since if I turned to go a different direction (I really did not want to go where she was leading), she would amplify her pitiful calls so I had to follow. After quite a distance she suddenly went silent and scurried back thru the cover, calling softly to her chicks.

  3. Beautiful pics. I must have seen these guys quite a few times in my bike rides along the beach but I didn’t know they were called killdeer. To my ears, their calls don’t much sound like “kill deer” and I listened to them all on the Cornell page. Certainly they don’t deserve their name. Perhaps the Woke will declare the name as too violent, or anti-deerist, and force them to be renamed.

    I don’t have any references for this but I was under the impression that several species played the broken-wing game. The killdeer’s is certainly very convincing though I wonder if some predators learn that they’re being played and use it to their advantage.

  4. I appreciate the great photos and information. I hear killdeer on occasion, but they blend into the background so well that often I can’t even see them, let alone take a picture.

  5. We have a fair number of killdeer around here in CA central valley, including in our pasture (which gets flood irrigated every 2 weeks or so), the local orchards, and along the irrigation canals. I see them do their display and wonder where their nests are, and how they keep reproducing when most orchards get flooded regularly in the spring and summer.

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