Protecting treasure up close

After letting the killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) demonstrate their full repertoire of distractions, I let them show me one more thing: the location of their nest.  And once I knew where it was, I let them show me their last tactic.

A killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) protecting its nest (2009_05_31_021124)

These birds will stand their ground and defend the nest if it’s discovered.  The interesting part of this tactic is that it seems directly proportionate to how soon the eggs will hatch.  As that time approaches, the parents appear far less likely to leave the nest for long, or to get too far away from it.  (In this case, the eggs hatched about three days later.)

The photo above shows the father standing between me and the nest; the eggs are huddled together in front of the dry leaves in the background.

A killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) protecting its nest (2009_05_31_021144)

I circled.  He turned, sometimes facing me directly and sometimes standing sideways.  But always watchful, always vigilant.

Meanwhile, the mother gave me her best performances.  She dazzled me with nearby broken wing displays, threat displays, false brooding displays and all manner of noise.

Yet I wanted our encounter to be as short as possible.  I didn’t want to stress the parents unnecessarily, but more importantly I didn’t want to draw attention to the nest.

So I snapped one last image of the father standing over the eggs.

A killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) standing over its eggs (2009_05_31_021158)

See them?  They’re just in front of and below the bird’s breast.

As with the killdeer themselves, nature blessed the eggs with its gift of camouflage, what is normally called ruptive colors or ruptive patterns.  The eggs are speckled with dark and light colors.  This breaks up their pattern and helps them merge into the background, making them more difficult to find.

Perhaps this crop of that image will help you find the eggs.

A close-up of the nest eggs with a killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) standing over them (2009_05_31_021158_c)

I left the parents to their day.  Yet I knew I would be back.  Time of year and behavior told me the nest would soon be empty.

[next: eggs and chicks]

Leave a Reply