May 21, 2013
Written by Jack Sanders
Thursday, 07 July 2011 10:50
Last week, we featured a bird whose nesting places are relatively unusual: The Chimney Swift. In its own way, the Killdeer is equally unusual, but in the opposite way. Instead of hiding in the throat of a chimney or hollow tree, the Killdeer nests on the ground, right out in the open, seemingly without a lot of concern about creatures nearby.
Ridgefielder Allan Welby proved that last weekend when he shot the accompanying photos of a mother Killdeer nesting in bark mulch at the Ridgefield Recycling Center, one of the busiest places in town.Killdeer (or is it Killdeers?) are interesting in several ways. They are plovers, a family of bird we more often see along seashores. Killdeer can be found along shores but they are more common inland — across the South in winter and across much of North America up to the Arctic Circle in summer.
“It may be said of the killdeer that it is probably the most widely distributed and best known of all our shore birds,” wrote Arthur Cleveland Bent back in 1929.
Killdeer nest on the ground and favor open fields. The nests, the egg markings, and the parents’ plumage are all camouflaged to fit in with the surroundings.
Although housing developments and the return of woodlands have eliminated most of our fields, Fairfield and Westchester counties still have their open areas, such as the recycling center where Allan saw his Killdeer. These birds will even nest in the islands of shopping center parking lots.
However, one of the most interesting of its adaptations is to corporate and retail developments. Most shopping centers and office buildings have flat roofs. And flat is what Killdeer like. Even better, nesting on a flat roof protects the Killdeer eggs and offspring from most predators, such as raccoons, opossums, coyotes, fox, cats, and even snakes, which are unlikely to climb shopping center walls.
Killdeer may be best known for their “broken-wing act.” If a human or other potential predator approaches a nest, a parent bird will take off across the ground, dragging one wing as if it were broken. This play-acting is designed to draw the predator away from the nest and toward the “injured” bird which, when far enough from the nest, flies off, leaving the fooled creature behind.
However, if the approaching creature is just a big lummox like a cow that is not an attacker, the Killdeer may behave differently, but with the same protective aim. Here’s how Howard Lacey described it a century ago: “If the danger came from a cow or horse, the tactics were changed and the birds — with both wings and feathers spread out — would run into the animal’s face, and so by startling it drive the intruder away.”
Mr. Bent added that these varying tactics appear to show “great discernment and intelligence on the part of the bird.”
Back to those swifts: Bill Rossiter of Redding enjoyed last week’s column about the Chimney Swifts nesting in a new Canaan flue.
The picture, he said, “showed us what our nesting swifts look like in our 1939 granite chimney. For the 13 years we’ve lived here, the swifts have raised at least two broods, but this year it almost didn’t happen.
“Shortly after they arrived this spring, one of the swifts pushed or fell through the old flue, which had been closed all winter. We were out, and thankfully our five dogs were behind closed doors in the playroom, while the bird flew around inside the house until collapsing, exhausted, on the living room carpet.
“He or she was very aware, and surprisingly big, but put up no resistance to our gently lifting her in a towel and putting her outside in the sun. Within minutes she was back in the sky, but we didn’t celebrate until days later, when we watched both swifts spiral in and dive straight down into the chimney.
“A few days ago there were four overhead — success!
Bird Banding: Bedford Audubon has several bird banding sessions in Hunt Park Sanctuary during July; if you are interesting in observing, call for dates or email for dates and times, tjohansson @ bedfordaudubon.org or 914-232-1999.
Norwalk Island Birdwatching Cruises, aboard the C.J. Toth Quest ferry, with guide, Sundays, July 10, July 24, Aug. 7, Tuesday, July 12, Saturday, July 30, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 7:30 to 10:30, Adults $22, kids $12, Norwalk Seaport Association, from ferry dock at Water and Washington Streets, South Norwalk, seaport.org, 203-838-9444.
Sharon Audubon Festival, nature walks, displays, talks, music, food, more, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 13 and 14, 9 to 5, Audubon Sharon, (860) 364-0520 or check www.sharon.audubon.org.
Copyright 2011 by Jack Sanders. Send sightings or comments to: jackfsanders [at sign] yahoo.com, or to Bird Notes, Box 1019, Ridgefield, CT 06877; or call 203-438-1183, extension BIRD (2473), and leave a message with your report, spelling your first and last names and telling us your town. If you need help identifying a bird, try your local nature center. If you find an injured bird, call wildlife rehabilitator Darlene Wimbrow of Redding, 203-438-0618, Wildlife in Crisis of Weston, 203-544-9913, or Wild Wings of Greenwich, 203-637-9822. The columnist’s website is www. sandersbooks. com.
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