Killdeer

 

 

          Killdeer, a very peaceful bird, but also at times very annoying. I think that killdeer are very peaceful. The scientific name for a killdeer is a Charadrius Vociferous. That is such a big and wonderful name. The name killdeer is not its name because it kills deer, but because when is peeps it sounds like kill-dee. That is how it got its name.

Habitat

           Both male and female take part in all the nesting activities. The nest is on the ground at a site that provides a good view from all sides. Fields, barren open spots, gravel bars, and closely grazed pastures (sometimes near or on dried-out cow or horse manure) are common sites. The floor of a disused quarry or a gravel roof may fill all requirements. Nests have even been found on the gravel beds of railway rights-of-way, the birds merely flying out of the way whenever a train passes.

          The nest is a shallow scrape sometimes lined with pebbles, broken grass stems, and limestone or wood chips. This depression is hollowed out by the male bird, who crouches low, circling slowly as he scratches the dirt loose with his feet, throwing it out with vigorous backward kicks.

          In early April in the south and later in the north, the female lays four or, very rarely, five pear-shaped eggs, which are large and blunt at one end and pointed at the other and average 36.5 by 26.5 mm in size. The eggs are pale buff, irregularly spotted, blotched, or scrawled with blackish-brown or black, and always neatly arranged in a circle with the pointed ends turned inwards. As there is more blotching on the blunt ends that face outwards, the eggs blend well with their surroundings. The female is ready to breed in her first year. There may be a second brood in latitudes where the first nesting is early. Excessive heat or cold can damage the eggs, which are rarely left unattended, both the male and female take turns incubating them. On very hot days the attending bird may stand over the nest, shading the eggs with its body, at the same time allowing cooling breezes to circulate over them.

          The adult birds incubate the eggs for 24 to 26 days before they are ready to hatch. A chick takes 18 to 36 hours to break out of the shell, every piece of which is removed from the vicinity of the nest by the parents within a brief time after hatching.

          When the young are first hatched, they are completely covered in warm, thick down and resemble their parents, except that they have only one band, not two, across the chest. At first this down is wet, but it dries within an hour or so, and the young birds look like fluffy balls with rather long legs. Unlike the young of songbirds, shorebird young leave the nest as soon as their down has dried, they are able to feed themselves within a day, running about quickly, jabbing at the ground for small insects. The downy plumage is lost rapidly as they grow, and by midsummer they are almost indistinguishable from adults. However, head patterns are less distinct, and all browns are paler.

          Although the adults do not have to feed the young, they watch them constantly and do a thorough job of brooding, guarding against enemies, and warning of danger. At the first sign of danger, the parent will give an alarm note that warns the chicks to freeze. The young will squat motionless until the parent gives an all-clear signal. Soft calls will bring the chicks running to nestle under the parent's warm feathers for a short nap or for the night. For the first few days, the chicks are brooded often to protect them from the sun or from the cold and wet. The parents cease to brood them at all after about 24 days and after 40 days the young birds are ready to fly.

Range                                               

                          Killdeer reach southern Canada as early as mid-March, about the same time as the returning robins. They travel by both day and night, and sometimes their calls may be heard overhead on moonlit nights in the spring. There is evidence that some Killdeer make the flight northward individually, particularly early in the season. It is then that a single bird will often be found where snow has melted early or where a spring or stream has kept the ground soft enough for it to probe with its bill for food. As the days pass, more Killdeer arrive. Migration is gradual and not spectacular as it is with some bird species. Some Killdeer may begin to nest in southern Canada while other migrants continue to pass through on their way further north.

          In late summer, they begin gathering in flocks in fields or along shores of ponds, lakes, and streams. Some of these gatherings may include only a few birds, whereas others may vary from 10 to 100 or more birds where feeding conditions are particularly favorable. Unlike many other shorebirds, they do not feed close together, but they do form a flock when taking wing.

          As autumn advances, numbers gradually decrease as birds depart for warmer places, until by late October or early November only a few remain. An occasional single bird can sometimes be found in southern Ontario in winter where a spring or stream has kept a small piece of ground soft and free of snow. Very few of these late-stayers are known to remain all winter and survive until spring.

Life Cycle

          Killdeer like most birds have eggs. Every year they donít 5 then the next year 2, but they have four every year. They have they eggs late March and early April. They hatch about a month later. Killdeer defend their eggs and their chicks. If one of their predators comes close to their eggs they fake a broke wing and draws the predator away from the eggs.

Food

                The Killdeer's choice of food covers a wide variety of insect and other invertebrate life, much of which is injurious to agriculture. Beetles, such as clove-root and alfalfa weevils, June beetle larvae, wire-worms, the larvae of click beetles, and brown fruit beetles, compose nearly 40% of its diet. The stomachs of Killdeer taken in orchards have been found to be completely filled with weevils.

            Other insects, such as grasshoppers, caterpillars, ants, bugs, caddie flies, dragon flies, and two-winged flies, make up another 40% of the diet, and other invertebrates, such as centipedes, spiders, ticks, oyster worms, earthworms, snails, crabs, and other crustaceans form about 20%. Included in the Killdeer's food are many pest species. Not only are many of these harmful to crops, but some, such as mosquitoes and ticks, are injurious to people and animals. Vegetable matter, chiefly weed seeds, makes up only about 2% of the total food intake.

          During feeding, the Killdeer runs short distances, stops as if to listen or look, always with its head up, and then jabs suddenly at the ground. Occasionally on very muddy ground, it pats the surface with its feet as if to squeeze out some grub or worm that may be below. It may be seen feeding at almost any time of day.

Description

          The Killdeer is a very common bird across most of southern Canada in the summer, and nests from Newfoundland through to northern British Columbia and up to southern Alaska. It is uncommon or absent in northern forested regions. The Killdeer also breeds thought the continental United States to Mexico. It winters as far north as Long Island and southern British Columbia on the coasts, and south to northern South America. Although the Killdeer is classified as a shorebird, it is often found some distance from water. It frequents only open places, such as fields, pastures, and dry uplands. Golf courses and airfields, with their short grass, are also favorite habitats.

                The Killdeer is a strikingly handsome bird. From bill-tip to tail-tip it is 23-28 cm and weighs up to 100 g. It is almost the same size as a robin, but its long legs make it appear larger. Two black bands across the white chest and an orange-colored lower back, rump, and tail are its most distinctive markings. A white collar and white above the bill contrast with the brownish cap and the dark band below the eye and around the nape of the neck. The upper back and wings are brown, but large white wing stripes are visible when the bird flies. The plumage, which is worn by male and female alike, shows no perceptible differences in summer or winter.

          The Killdeer is admirably adapted to its life on the ground. It has a wingspread of 50 cm and is a strong and swift flier, but it can also run swiftly because it has such long legs. The broad dark bands on the breast and the alternating white and dark bands on the head make a disruptive pattern that camouflages the bird, particularly on ploughed fields and gravelly shores. The eggs also blend with their background of earth, pebbles, or stones. The bird is equipped with a long, stout bill, which can probe the earth for grubs and worms lying below the surface.

Copyright 2001 Celeste

Mr. Collier

 

 

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