Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

tags: , , , ,

[Mystery bird] newly hatched Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus, photographed at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Anahuac, Texas. [I will identify this bird for you in 48 hours]

Image: Joseph Kennedy, 1 June 2010 [larger view].

Nikon D200, Kowa 883 telescope with TSN-PZ camera eyepiece 1/640s f/8.0 at 1000.0mm iso400.

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

This cute little bird was or will be, at some point during its youth, protected by a spectacular display by one of its parents. Can you describe what behavior the parents engage in to protect this young bird from harm?

Killdeer parents use two different methods to protect their nests, eggs and chicks. In the case of large grazing animals that unintentionally approach, one or both adult birds will run with outstretched wings or fly directly toward the animal if it appears likely to step into a nest or on a chick. Once the intruder has been turned away, the Killdeer will allow it to graze peacefully nearby.

In the case of a predator, the adult birds will fly around and call loudly. If that doesn’t repel the intruder, one of the parents will then perform a distraction display, commonly called a broken-wing act or injury feigning. The bird crouches on the ground with one wing spread and hanging as though broken. It flops about in a piteous manner, at the same time crying kill-dee-dee-ee as though in mortal pain. The intruder is drawn towards the seemingly wounded or helpless bird, which always manages to move away, decoying the intruder farther and farther from its nest containing eggs or young birds. When the enemy is well away from its intended prey, the adult Killdeer miraculously recovers and flies away. During this display, the young will either stay perfectly still or will scatter in all directions. In either case, they will be almost impossible to find.

Review all mystery birds to date.


  1. #1 Russell
    June 22, 2010

    Awwww…. how cute! If I’m identifying the chick correctly, one of the parents will land in front of you with a loud cry, and walk along, and once you close, do this again and again, leading would be predators away from the nest or chick. Which makes the adult birds easy to spot.

  2. #2 PattyP
    June 22, 2010

    Just adorable! If it’s the plover I think it is, its parents are good at feigning injury to distract predators.

  3. #3 bardiac
    June 22, 2010

    Teh CUTENESS is overwhelming. I think the folks above have it.

    What a stunning picture; the wetness on the legs is just perfect somehow.

  4. #4 dhogaza
    June 22, 2010

    I’ve watched a great grey owl mom do a broken wing display, flopping along the ground as a researcher and I were approaching her chick which was perched on a bent-over pine branch at about head height. The researcher had been weighing and measuring this chick since hatching and had been studying this particular pair of great grey owls for years, and said that invariably mom would do this broken wing thing whenever the researcher approached one of her chicks after they’d branched out of the nest.

    Quite impressive, seeing that big ‘ole owl flopping around on the ground. This was in Oregon’s Blue Mountains, in a remnant stand of old growth pond pine.

    I wonder how many species do this?

    Of course, the photographed species you’ve provided is probably the best-known for this, maybe because they frequently nest along roadsides, in fields and parks, and other places where lots of people see them.

  5. #5 Iso
    June 22, 2010

    I was going to guess juvenile killdeer, if we’re still guessing. Bc of the single black stripe along the top of the chest and the “cap” as well as the gangly legs and baby head. They do the broken wing display, so I’m sticking with my guess. Unless of course, I missed the reveal earlier.

  6. #6 Murray
    June 22, 2010

    I think ALL babies are adorable–Wish I had a “baby” book–I’ve seen Killdeer do its pretending, but sorry to say I’ve never seen an infant plover. Anyone lucky enough?

  7. #7 Dominic Gendron
    June 22, 2010

    Adorable image of a killdeer baby 😉

  8. #8 CS Shelton
    June 24, 2010

    I’ve seen one a few times in the middle of a suburb slathered in concrete. Took a lot of effort to ID it without binoculars. One of the coolest birds I’ve seen here.

New comments have been disabled.