It’s that time of year again

Last year about this time I photographed a pair of red-shouldered hawks getting to know each other in the biblical sense.  They’re the same hawks whose new nest I discovered a few weeks back.

So yesterday I checked on the nest.  She was settled down far enough to make her difficult to see, but at least they appear serious about using that location.  I snapped a few pictures to record her presence, then I continued on with a leisurely walk around White Rock Lake.

Near the meadows of Winfrey Point I heard killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) up the hill from me and decided to try for some photos.  Thankfully one of them was being vocal enough to make them locatable.

Two killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) standing in a meadow (2010_03_06_050633)

At that point all I could tell was that the one on the right was talking.  Not vocal as in loud, but vocal in a way that had a “come hither” feel to it.  I experienced an immediate sense of familiarity.  With the one talking and the other one approaching, it reminded me of the hawks from last year.  It didn’t take long to see that it’s that time of year again, the time of year when “go forth and multiply” becomes nature’s motto.

Mating killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) (2010_03_06_050670)

I felt somewhat like a peeping Tom.  Worse even because I was taking pictures.  Silliness aside, there’s something beautiful about nature doing its thing, not at all worried for appearances or prude human sensibilities.

A male killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) dismounting a female after mating (2010_03_06_050672)

The deed done, he dismounted—albeit not with the grace he intended.  She flinched her wing as he stepped, so off he tumbled.  But he recovered with dignity and walked away as though he’d done her a favor.  I giggled.

She moved in my direction as he moved away.  I was still some distance away from either of them, so I took a slow step toward her thinking I might grab a couple of closer shots before leaving them to their morning.  That’s when something interesting happened.

Male killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) standing in a meadow and watching me (2010_03_06_050674)

He ran a short distance back in my direction before turning around.  He watched me.  Closely.

Male killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) distracting me from his mate (2010_03_06_050687)

So I took one more slow step toward her.  He then parted his wings enough to show some bright rufous as he took several quick steps away from me.  He added some vocalizations to increase the effectiveness of his display.  Having spent so much time last year documenting their diversionary tactics, I know well enough that showing the flashy rump color is meant to grab the attention of threats.  Only I’d never seen it used without a nest to protect.

And when I took a few steps backward—away from her—he closed his wings yet remained where he stood, and he watched me closely.  Mate guarding.  I’d never seen the behavior before; nevertheless, there’s no doubt he was making himself a more obvious target to distract me from her.

10 thoughts on “It’s that time of year again”

  1. Neat capture with the mate guarding!

    I’ve noticed this week, for the first time, “come hither” songs being added to my birds’ repertoires. “Tis the season.

    1. Thanks, TGIQ. I don’t think I knew about mate guarding in killdeer, or if I did I didn’t remember it. It was cool to witness the behavior and have that sudden realization of what was happening. And it definitely ’tis the season! (About time, too.)

  2. Too cool, Jason, what a neat series of images. The last bit, about the male trying to draw your attention, is especially intriguing.

    Our killdeers are probably caught up somewhere in Kentucky, waiting for the snow to melt in Ohio before they carry on. We don’t usually see our first one till mid- to late March.

    1. Thanks, Seabrooke. I thought the male’s display was intriguing as well. Being so familiar with their diversionary tactics, I recognized that he was attempting to capture my attention. Too early to nest, I was a tad confused at first–for a few seconds–before taking a step back and realizing he was reacting to my nearness to her. It makes perfect biological sense; I just never realized they acted that way.

      I’m so glad you mentioned when they usually arrive in your area. It reminds me that they aren’t permanent in some places. I get so used to seeing them all year that I begin to think the same scene is happening everywhere.

  3. Fantastic photos and post. Pretty cool you were able to get so close, nice! I love the killdeer’s broken wing display. There were a lot who nested in our neighbor’s yard when I was younger. Every time i would run across the yard to my friend’s yard they all flipped out and did the wing thing. It took me years to realize why/what they were doing. The killdeer are out in full force here, cool big plovers!

    1. Thank you, Jill. I wish I’d been closer; even using a 400mm lens, I had to crop the images so the birds weren’t lost in a sea of brown. On the other hand, I didn’t want to interrupt them and felt good about keeping my distance.

      Your story about running through the neighbor’s yard is too fun. I can just picture the birds going into display mode as a group. Great visual!

  4. I don’t know if you would be interested, but I have some (couple of hundred) very close up pictures of Kildeers on their nest, guarding and attacking the intruder (me). I have pictures of the nest, nest with eggs and hatchlings. One season when I took pictures over several weeks, the adults got to teh point they would allow me to get close to them. Some of teh most fum pictures are of the youngsters (four of them) getting under the adults wings. Once during a downpour, the adult was in the parking lot huddled down with all four youngsters beneath her. The are some of the most maternal creatures I have ever seen.

    I really enjoyed your pictures as I had never seen the “first act” of the play:)

    1. I’d love to see the killdeer photos, Philip. These birds entertain and beguile me even though they’re always around.

      Your story reminds me of a similar experience last year when I discovered a pair nesting in an oft mowed and frequently used area of the lake park where I live. I spent quite a bit of time watching them (and pestering the park department to mark the location so they wouldn’t mow). From protecting the nest to newly hatched chicks, you can see some of the photos here, here, here and here.

Leave a Reply