A textbook photo

Back in summer 2009 I spent several weeks monitoring a bird nest.  Not just any bird nest, but the nest of killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), the shorebird species least likely to be associated with a shore.

Close-up of a killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) (2009_06_03_021880_n)

The few times I walked through the field where the pair nested, the adults gave me their best diversionary tactics, which is how the adventure began: their no-holds-barred displays to lead me, the predator, away from their nest.  They showed me false brooding, the broken wing display, the threat display, and the ungulate display, though they didn’t treat me to their most dramatic move: flying into the face of an approaching threat, something that often scares animals into changing directions—away from the nest, of course!

Eventually I also captured photos of them standing guard over the nest, their last-ditch maneuver when a predator just doesn’t get the hint, and of course when the happy day finally arrived, I got to see the chicks as they hatched and left the nest, never to look back.

Close-up of a killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) (2009_06_03_021915_c)

The opportunity was too cool for words for many reasons, one being the opportunity to get some totally excellent photos and another being the learning opportunity, but the most important being the chance to experience nature as it happens, something I rather enjoy and much prefer to reading about it later.

One of the photos to appear in the first post linked above happens to be of the male giving me his best broken wing act.  Killdeer have mastered this display, as you can see from the photos in that post, but the image in question I snapped as I walked slowly behind him, letting him feel confident his display was working.  (It’s important under these circumstances to let the animals feel accomplished lest they abandon the nest due to failure.)  The picture is this one:

A killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) giving the broken wing display (2009_06_03_021847)

All his acting skills are brought to bear, as you can see, and I let him win by leading me away from the nest and the eggs (seen in the second post linked above).  I had by that time let them show me all their moves, and I wanted them to be there later as I continued to watch the nest, so we trailed across the field until he felt confident I wouldn’t find the nest, then off he flew.  (Of course I already knew damn well where the nest was, but we must play our games.)

Almost a year later, I had all but forgotten the photo.  But then the talented Seabrooke Leckie reminded me of it by showing off her own version, a colored pencil sketch that is rather impressive.  I was glad someone had seen something in that photo and decided to work some personal magic on the scene.

Then in October 2010, I received an e-mail from Dr. Jack W. Bradbury, the Robert G. Engel Professor of Ornithology Emeritus in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University.  He said in part:

Dr. Sandra Vehrencamp and I are working on a second edition of a textbook entitled Principles of Animal Communication. We have a draft figure in which we want to show a shorebird doing a broken wing display and really liked your third (from the top) photo of a killdeer doing this display on your site …

Would you be interested in letting us use this photo?

Would I be interested?  Does a bear…  Well, yes, of course I’d be interested, and so I pursued the opportunity.  After agreements were made and the file provided, I then had to sit back and wait.  And wait.  Because the book wasn’t to be published until summer 2011, precisely two years after I took the shot.

But now the wait has ended.  I recently received my contributor’s copy of Principles of Animal Communication, Second Edition, and I’m thrilled to say it’s one more notch in my photographic belt.


As these things go, it’s a large book, but it’s a textbook, so I shouldn’t be too surprised by its bulk.  Better than many of the textbooks I grew up using, this one is full color and thorough.  It covers tremendous amounts of science and overflows with graphics, photographs and diagrams.  It’s a mighty fine piece of work!

And there on page 574, in the section titled “Last-ditch prey signals to predators,” is my charming killdeer, right beside a skink showing off its recently detached tail:


As has happened with all my licensed photographs, this opportunity presented itself not because I went looking for the chance, but rather because the chance came to me, thanks to simple web searches bringing someone to my blog.  It’s called crowd sourcing, and take it from me, it’s pretty damned neat!

6 thoughts on “A textbook photo”

  1. Congrats! I love that photo because it reminds me of all the times I was dragged off on a merry chase by these very breed of birds while I was just a kid back on the farm. Until now I never realized they have eyebrows. (Well sort of!)

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