On a recent walk on a section of the Prescott Circle Trail, adjacent to Watson Woods, I observed the ‘deception’ behavior exhibited by a killdeer. Killdeer employ an attention-getting behavior when one gets too close to their nest.
Seeing the behavior, I knew there had to be a nest nearby. The killdeer started vocalizing and dragging a wing as if it were injured, walking away from me in an effort to lead me away from its nest site.
Not familiar with killdeer? They are in the plover family and have long legs like wading birds to feed in shallow water. This particular species of plover, however, actually prefers drier habitats adjacent to areas with water. They can be found in agricultural fields, ball fields, and weedy areas around our local lakes.
Why the elaborate display of feigning an injury to distract me? Because killdeers build their ‘nest’ directly on the ground. I use the term ‘nest’ loosely as it is not a nest in the traditional sense. Killdeer find a location with loose gravel and small rocks and lay their eggs on the surface of the soil—no nesting material is used.
The eggs are heavily speckled and blend in with the surrounding rocks, making it difficult for a predator to detect the presence of eggs. Seeing the typical ‘I’m injured’ behavior, I began looking for the nest but didn’t have any luck finding it. The next time my wife and I were hiking the trail, the female killdeer repeated her little acting trick. I searched again, without luck.
The next time I was hiking that section of the trail, I got a little help from a passing bicyclist—unbeknownst to the biker. The biker flew past me, and when he passed the spot where the nest was, I was able to see where the killdeer was before she left the nest to start her acting performance. While she was away, I looked again. This time I discovered the four eggs, so beautiful, and perfectly symmetrical in their placement! I took a quick picture with my cell phone and made a mental reference of the location so I could find it again on future walks.
For the next week or so, I saw the eggs each time I passed by. About two weeks later, we were walking on the same trail, but this time there were no eggs and the area where the ‘nest’ was had been disturbed.
I assume she suffered a nest failure, which is not surprising based on the location of her nest—less than two feet from the shoulder of the Peavine Trail! She certainly didn’t choose a great spot, and I can’t imagine how many times a day she was disturbed by passing bikers, hikers, walkers and dog-walkers. I assume she’ll start over, hopefully in a better spot this time!
In other bird news, some of our winter visitors such as dark-eyed juncos and ruby-crowned kinglets are thinning out as they head north. Yellow-rumped warblers are thick right now—and they are in their stunning breeding plumage. White-crowned sparrows are still here in abundance, but will be mostly gone by the end of the month.
This is always an interesting time of year. Many of our winter birds leave before our spring birds show up, creating a brief lull in bird activity. This is a critical time of year to provide nutritious seed and suet for migratory birds to help fuel their long-distance travels.
I’m happy to say that Jay’s Bird Barn is still open. We are providing curbside service, if you would like to take advantage of it. We appreciate your continued patronage during this difficult time.
Until next week, Happy Birding, and be well!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with two locations in northern Arizona—Prescott and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.