October 2014 Bird Photo of the Month

All is not what is seems! © J. R. Williams
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)

How did this bird, “Killdeer,” get such a name? Does it really kill deer? Of course not! Some birds are named for their characteristic call. You may hear this bird amongst a small group on open grassy fields with its readily recognizable, strident call, “Kill-deer” “kill-deah” “dee-eee” “dee-eee,” as they briefly fly to another good insect-hunting spot. What would we do without birds? Our crops and our homes would be pest-ridden! Killdeer eat 90% insects, such as weevils, mosquito larvae, ants, grasshoppers, fly larvae, beetles, and crickets, as well as invertebrates like snails.

Killdeer doing a “broken-wing” act © J. R. Williams
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)

During nesting from March-July, you might stumble upon a nest in a shallow scrape on the ground or amongst stones. They use golf courses, school grounds, farms, even rooftops, stone driveways or parking lots. JR Williams saw this Killdeer standing beside the road and stopped to photograph her. Suddenly she started a typical ‘broken-wing’ act, fluttering along the ground as though she was injured and couldn’t fly with her broken wing, crying out…trying to lead him away from her nest. However, this behavior simply alerts a knowledgeable person that there is a nearby nest. Sure enough, in the middle of a single rutted road, he found four speckled eggs in a slight depression over which several cars already had passed! Soon after hatching, the precocious chicks can walk, following their protective parents to food to feed themselves.

Widespread across continental America, Killdeer are hardy, successful plovers. They are identified by bold, double black breast stripes that contrast with a white front and brown back. When flying, they flash orange rumps, black and white wing bars. Florida population numbers increase when northern nesters fly south for winter. JR Williams’ photo, taken with a Canon 50D, 1/1600 sec, f/6.3, ISO 160, 400mm, illustrates how only when zooming in with a telescopic camera lens do we see their bright vermillion eye-ring!

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society

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